Germany is legalizing online poker, but not everyone is thrilled

Jon Pill
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Posted on: October 10, 2020 6:34 pm EDT

Germany’s finally going to get serious about online poker.

The Reichstag has been flirting with the idea of regulating online gambling for a while. They have finally resolved that. Starting in July 2021, online gambling of all kinds will be legalized and regulated.

When the Glücksspielneuregulierungsstaatsvertrag (State Treaty on Gambling in Germany) kicks in, any service providers that wish to be licensed in the Bundesrepublik will have to follow a few key rules. These rules set up certain guidelines like limits on advertising. One of the rules requires sites to use automatic monitoring to identify problem gamblers. And service providers will have to enforce  deposit limits of €1,000 per month.

Casinos have been told that if they operate in line with the legislation from now until it comes into effect, then it will greatly increase their chances to get licensed. Some people have speculated that this a threat. They worry that licenses might be withheld from casinos that drag their feet in coming up to code.

Legalizing it

Online gambling is (mostly) illegal in Germany at the moment.

The exception is for around 20 licensed operators — not all of of which provide poker. As a result, many poker pros playing online are not strictly speaking “working within the law.” This is one reason for the number of German ex-pats in the poker community. 

But so far the long arm hasn’t shown much interest in knocking on players’ doors over the infractions. 

Even though law enforcement doesn’t seem all that interested in players, many German resident pros have seen their banks turn against them. Reputational and regulatory risk led Steffen Sontheimer to pack up his business accounts with Commerzbank, just for being associated with gambling.

He tweeted about it earlier in the year saying: “When you do it professionally, Poker is not a game of luck, so you gotta pay taxes on that in Germany. Good that I get a call from this @commerzbank morning that they cancel my business account because they don’t support gamble related stuff.”

You can’t please all of the people all of the time

To most poker players, legalization might sound like nothing but upside. That’s especially true for players who’ve followed the legal wranglings of the American legislative branch in this area.

Currently, anyone who plays professionally has to cough up income tax. This new German legislation seems to reclassify all poker as gambling. So poker income is likely to become tax-free. And above all, no more ambiguity with your bank or the cops.

Despite this, German players have responded with mixed emotions.

The main reason some players don’t view legalization as the Willkommen zurück that it could be is those deposit limits. When the news hit 2+2, the first reply — from “Smudger2408” — was “So, high stakes online in Germany is dead?”

The deposit limits are very similar to some other jurisdictions. For example, Sweden has a limit of SEK 5,000 per week.

But these kinds of limits are likely to keep losing players for the higher stakes games. Players just can’t reload faster than they lose. And the new regs will make it harder for pros to move money about from poker client to poker client.

There are also concerns that the legislation will lead to a segregated German player pool (as in France and Italy). That would affect everyone. Germany is one of the biggest and richest poker markets in Europe.

However, as it stands, the law does not seem to require segregation. Germany might just as easily follow the UK’s model. In the UK, regulation applies to UK players, but UK sites can use the international player pool.

In the end, deposit limits might end up being a very small price to pay for legalized German poker.