After months of anticipation, it looks as if the new year will at last see legalised online gambling in the Czech Republic. Radio Praha reports that after years of lobbying and promises to prevent minors from betting on their websites, the country’s five biggest bookies will soon receive permits from the Finance Ministry to introduce online gambling.
One of those firms is believed to be Fortuna – and company exec Tomáš Bahník explained why the decision was so important for the firms. He told the radio station's reporter: “We are sad and bitter that foreign Internet betting companies are allowed to operate in the Czech Republic without any control. There is no legal restriction. So basically they operate in this country illegally. So we want to have the same opportunities as foreign companies.”
Bahnik claimed that local betting companies could be losing out on several hundred million a year to foreign companies offering Internet gambling from outside the Czech Republic, but making no contribution to taxes or employment within the Republic.
The betting company executive said that the action date for the issue of the licenses was January 5 2009, and that those companies in line to receive licenses have been preparing their operations and will be ready to launch on that date.
He added that the regulatory regime would be tough and closely monitored, which he claimed was in contrast to the offerings of foreign online companies.
"Every person, including teenagers, can use [foreign company online gambling sites] Internet betting without control," Bahnik alleged. "Our main goal is to control this situation. If someone wants to bet through Fortuna on the Internet, they must register in a bricks and mortar office and show their ID. Only then will they be allowed to play. We don’t accept credit cards but only regular payment cards because we don’t support gambling and gamblers and we don’t want people to become addicted to Internet betting. That’s something foreign companies don’t do.”
Bahnik added that the preparedness of local companies to comply with such strict regulation and precautions to ensure the safety of gamblers was one of the main reasons that persuaded government to agree to a licensing and regulatory system.
Asked about the competitive potential for online gambling vs. traditional Czech bricks and mortar establishments. Bahnik said it was unlikely that the new online betting era would herald a reduction in land casino venues. He used neighbouring Slovakia as an example, where regulated online gambling had revealed that Internet operations took about 20 percent of the market, leaving the rest to more traditional land companies and betting locations.