Belarus is a land-locked country in eastern Europe. It border Russia to the east, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, Lithuania to the north-east and Latvia to the north.
The online gambling industry in Belarus is in the middle of a transitional period for some time now, mainly due to several new laws coming into effect within just a few years of each other, some of which update or affect already-existing laws.
For a long time...
... the only form of online gambling available to Belarus residents was the lottery. Tickets were available for online sale even before the crucial law proposed back in 2010. It had the development of the industry as its focus point, and two primary provisions towards achieving this goal.
The first one referred to the prohibition of foreign operators that aren’t licensed in the country. This was proposed in order to reduce losses and increase the collected tax amounts once operators subject to the regulation.
Hence, the second key part of this law refers to the need for a more regulated and standardized online gambling industry for the benefit the country, as well as more expansive, to the benefit of the player pool.
A key legislation passed in the second half of 2010 prohibited the operations of all platforms...
... that didn’t end in the dot by (.by) domain.
At the same time, it was also illegal for residents to play games on such sites, whenever they accessed them. Many relevant entities proclaimed this to be a limitation on people’s freedom online, as well as an indicator that no significant progress is to be expected soon afterwards.
Nevertheless, by 2014, it became evident that the online gambling industry would benefit the country greatly, especially through the tax policies intended to apply to future licensees. Thus, the Minister of Taxation at the time announced the starting plans for a state-owned gambling platform.
Any provider willing to set up servers locally would be able to offer a portion of their gambling content, thus achieving greater variety for the player pool.
By July 2018, this proposition was put in formal terms as draft, and ultimately filed to the Parliament for approval. Bear in mind that, by then, several additional provisions were added – such is the increase of the minimum legal gambling age from 18 to 21.
President Lukashenko signed the bill and authorised its enforcement, set to start on 1 April 2019, thus setting up the groundwork for a comprehensive online gambling industry on the territory of Belarus.
On a final note, the matter of land-based casinos has also seen some improvements. In March 2018, the M1 Casino in Sudilovichi officially started offering its services and gambling products. Equipped with 300 gaming machines, 25 tables and 3 poker tables, it is bound to meet most player needs and preferences. Since then, this aspect of the gambling industry has also undergone a change in taxes – the bill (Decree 305) signed by the President didn’t only refer to interactive gambling, but also set a tax freeze for the three next years on all land-based establishments.
There is no formal licensing process for online gambling in Belarus. Instead, it appears that government-operated games are going to be the only way to go, and without a government contract to offer games through this portal, it doesn't look like foreign companies are going to have a chance to offer their games to players from this country.
So far, two state bodies have been identified as the key regulatory authorities for this sphere – the Ministry of Finance, as well as the Ministry of Sports and Tourism.
This type of monopoly tends to give the players a bit of a raw deal when it comes to promotions and game selection, but it's been doing well in other countries before, so we'll have to wait and see what kind of experience this will offer for the players as they get things running.
Players are expected to have high levels of protections when it comes to the government-operated online gambling portal that's in the works now. This includes benefits for both:
- Players, through ways to escalate complaints;
- The government, by presenting a strong, reliable front so that people don't resort to underground gambling, since that's the only competition to this upcoming government monopoly.
Playing with foreign sites is not recommended. There are significant fines and other punishments in place for players who access sites that aren't using the .by domain, and these are imposed through a high level of enforcement.
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