Officially the Portuguese Republic, Portugal borders its Iberian lover-Spain-and a number of the country’s differences have been influenced by its Atlantic Ocean position. Amongst its features as a tourist destination are its many distinct national dishes (for example, grilled sardines), the Tagus firth, the old Alfama district, Alentejo’s wild shorelines and obscure suburbs, the Douro river, whale-watching on the extrusive Azores archipelago, the Madeira archipelago with its native wine, the Portuguese coastal city Porto, coastlines in the Algarve region, and many more. Similarly, the gambling scene of Portugal is quite attractive.
History of Casinos in Portugal
While the first appearance of a gambling activity within the regions of Portugal is unknown, gambling has legally existed in the country since the early 20th century. To be honest, this is actually recent when compared to most European territories of such significance – take France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Ireland as examples. Nonetheless, gambling and casinos in Portugal have a considerably long history.
On January 16, 1916, Bernardino Luís Machado Guimarães – the third president of Portugal – started the construction of a casino in Estoril, a civil parish of Portugal at the time. The construction was soon completed and it became a success throughout all European territories during World War II. Reports had it that spies from different countries met, dined and gambled in the casino. The first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming was reportedly inspired by the casino.
In fact, many considered Casino Estoril more than just a casino – it was a cultural center. It was the biggest casino in Europe at the time, and only behind Casino Municipale di Campione d’Italia (in Italy), Le Casino de Monte-Carlo (in Monaco), and two casinos in the United Kingdom (Resorts World Birmingham and The Casino at the Empire) as the largest casino in Europe today. Most of its features range from its aesthetic construction to its luxe entertainment varieties. The casino laid the basis for other casinos within and outside the country. And still today, the oldest Portuguese casino is the largest casino in Portugal.
In addition to Casino Estoril, the construction of the country’s second casino – Casino da Póvoa de Varzim – started in February 1930 and opened in 1934 as a beach resort for the upper classes. Soon, it also became a widespread success. The building on its own, inspired by French architect Jean-Louis Charles Garnier’s modernism, is astonishing. (Garnier was the brain behind Le Casino de Monte-Carlo.) In 1977, the casino became one of Portugal’s Monumentos Nacionais. It was officially named one by the country’s authority for national treasures, IGESPAR (Instituto de Gestão do Património Arquitectónico e Arqueológico).
However, the legalization of gambling in Portugal was on December 3, 1929, when the Decree-Law No. 14,643 was approved. The Decree-Law created Conselho de Administração de Jogos and it was given the administrative authority to regulate and inspect all activities and facilities of gambling within the country. The Decree-Law was amended on March 18 of 1958 and 1959 through No. 41,562 and No. 48,912 respectively.
But amendments did not stop there for many changes have since been made to the laws of gambling in Portugal. The Decree-Law No. 450/82 replaced Conselho de Administração de Jogos with Inspeção-Geral de Jogos, under Ministério da Economia e da Inovação, on November 16, 1982. On October 26, 2007, the Decree-Law No. 208/2006 made Inspeção-Geral de Jogos a subdivision of Turismo de Portugal.
On December 29, 2011, the Decree-Law No. 126-C rebranded Inspeção-Geral de Jogos as Serviço de Regulação e Inspeção de Jogos (the Game Regulation and Inspection Service), under Ministério da Economia. Therefore, the Service (often shortened as SRIJ) is the gambling commission or authority in Portugal today. The Service oversees the operation and practice of games of chance (casino games, bingo, lotteries, poker, pari-mutuel and fixed-odds betting on horse races, slot machines, and fixed-odds and pair-mutuel sports betting) within the country, which are all sponsored by the State government. Also, the State government issues the license for gambling facilities within the country – but the licensing approval system is a concession system in actuality.
Furthermore, a Decree-Law to license and regulate online gambling in Portugal was proposed in 2011 and 2012 but was declined. Apart from the fact that online gambling was illicit in Portugal, there were some unimpressive laws concerning gambling at the time. For one, gambling facilities were limited to 11 areas and each area could have a single casino. (The areas and respective casinos are listed in other sections below.)
Also, these 11 casinos are operated and owned by four private companies. These are Estoril Sol SGPS SA, the Amorim Turismo Group, Pestana Hotel Group, and Solverde Casinos & Hotéis. Lastly, slot machines, poker, and a number of table games are restricted to casinos because they are games of chance according to the law.
Nevertheless, these laws are still in use today except that online gambling (popularly called RJO in Portugal) was legalized on April 29, 2015, when the Decree-Law No. 66/2015 was approved. The Decree-Law was amended on May 2, 2017, and August 28, 2017, by Law No. 13/2017 and Law No. 101/2017, respectively.
Prior to the approval, only Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML) was permitted to operate any form of gambling online. The company is a non-profit organization that operates all lotteries within Portugal, which is a state monopoly. It was established in 1498 as a fundraiser for charity and other charitable activities, and its Games Department operates lotteries and sports betting both online and offline.
Current Gambling Climate
As indicated above, gambling is legal in Portugal. Casino gambling, bingo, lotteries, pari-mutuel betting, and sports betting are all legal; licensed by the State government and Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, and regulated and inspected by Serviço de Inspecção de Jogos and Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa. Actually, all forms of gambling both online and land-based are legal in Portugal on the account that some gambling activities are not considered a gambling activity.
Currently, there are 11 casinos within the length and breadth of Portugal. And although this figure might be unimpressive, Portuguese casinos are one of the biggest, luxe, and expensive casinos in Europe. Portuguese casinos typically have a number of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, and other amenities. The gambling atmosphere in Portugal is apparently pleasant, lively, and luxurious – with entertainment at its core. Similar to other European countries, gambling is a nationwide activity so there are lots of varieties.
Pertaining the country itself, the Euro is the official currency and natives (more than 10 million) speak Portuguese in general, Mirandese in some regions, and Spanish and English scantily. There are many attractions within the country and its collection of luxe, well-equipped gambling facilities is an addition. Luckily, all casinos are located in very lively, dynamic areas.
Casinos in Portugal by Area
In Portugal, there are 11 casinos in 11 distinct areas (cities or municipalities). Casino Estoril, which is located in Estoril, is the country’s largest casino. The casino offers 1200 gaming machines, 35 table games, a poker room, and more than 25,000 square feet of gaming space. With 1,100 gaming machines, 26 table games, a poker room, and more than 65,000 square feet of gaming space, Casino Lisboa – located in the country’s capital city of Lisbon – is the second-largest casino.
Casino Solverde de Espinh (in Espinho) and Casino da Póvoa de Varzim (in Póvoa de Varzim) are the third and fourth largest casinos in the country. The former offers 777 gaming machines, eight poker tables, and 26 table games while the latter offers 695 gaming machines and 20 table games.
Other areas with a casino each are Funchal, Monte Gordo, Quarteira, Figueira da Foz, Tróia, Portimão, and Chaves.
Types of Casinos in Portugal
In addition to casinos, there are various bingo halls, racetracks, poker clubs, lottery outlets, etc. across Portugal. Particularly, there are three racetracks for pari-mutuel and fixed-odds betting: Závodisko Bratislava, Závodisko Senica, and Závodisko Šurany. Meanwhile, most – if not all – Portuguese casinos either have their own hotel, housed in a big hotel or situated close to a hotel.
In regards to games, the casinos are up to the standards of the industry and well-equipped with a long list of options. Slot machines are the most popular casino games in the country. Most Portugal casinos have at least 200 slot machines in different variations.
Typically, casinos offer Roulette, Caribbean Stud Poker, Blackjack, Electronic Roulette, French Banque (or French Banke), Omaha Poker, French Roulette, American Roulette, Punto Banco, Baccarat, Banca Francesa, Synthetic Poker, Texas Hold’em Poker, and Video Poker.
Bingo and lotteries are also popular. While bingo is available in bingo halls throughout the country, SCML is in charge of all lottery activities. The company has its own sports pool betting game and a number of existing lottery games and some in anticipation. Additionally, EuroMillions and a number of other European lotteries are available in the country and completely legal.
Further, sports betting is popular as well. While soccer (football) is apparently the most popular sport in this part (and other parts) of Europe, basketball, futsal, American football, martial arts, tennis, rugby union, and cycling are also popular nationwide.
As discussed earlier, online gambling is legal, licensed and regulated in Portugal. In fact, online gambling is quite popular in this country but keeps decreasing in revenue per diem. All forms of gambling are available online and players in Portugal can gamble on offshore gambling websites licensed within any European Economic Area territory.
List of Casinos in Portugal
Below is a list of all casinos currently operating in the regions of Portugal.
Casino da Madeira & Casino Park Hotel (Pestana Casino Park)
Casino da Póvoa de Varzim
Casino de Monte Gordo
Casino de Vilamoura
Casino Figueira da Foz
Casino Solverde de Espinho
Hotel Algarve Casino
Hotel Casino Chaves
Facts About Casinos in Portugal
– Similar to other countries, Portuguese casinos are open to people 18 years or older.
– Serviço de Regulação e Inspeção de Jogos can ban anyone from entering a casino for five years following a request by an operator or player of the casino.
– Although Le Casino de Monte Carlo appeared in the Casino Royale movie, Ian Lancaster Fleming – the author of the James Bond novel series – was reportedly inspired by Casino Estoril, which was the biggest casino in Europe at the time he wrote Casino Royale, his first novel, in 1952.
– Casino Espinho was found guilty in 2012 and was ordered to compensate a 37-year-old gambling addict from Marco de Canaveses with €83,000. The main reason was that the casino deliberately invited the victim to the casino for free meals, knowing that he could not control or at least limit his addiction. Unfortunately, he came and succumbed to the temptation, thereby losing all his wealth.
– Six out of 11 casinos in Portugal individually have more than 500 gaming machines. Yet, the remaining five have at least 200 gaming machines each.
– While playing Dolphin’s Pearl, a Lisboeta woman won €30,000 with a few coins in Casino Lisboa in 2013.
– Throughout the week, Portuguese casinos open from the afternoon to three or four hours after midnight. In fact, they are allowed to open for only 12 hours in a day.
– In 2001, a 71-year-old man hit a €1 million jackpot in Casino Estoril while playing a slot machine.
– One of country’s casino company, Pestana Hotel Group, was founded in 1972 and have more than 90 hotels across Portugal.
– On April 19, 2006, the country’s second-largest casino, Casino Lisboa, was launched.
– Stanley Ho, the famous King of Gambling from China, owns the greater percentage of Estoril Sol SGPS SA. Another Portuguese gambling company, the Amorim Turismo Group, greatly owns the remaining shares of Estoril Sol SGPS SA. The company is the biggest gambling company in Portugal, with three casinos.
– IEJ is the unique tax scheme that the State government uses to tax land-based casinos and bingo halls. The scheme is based on the facility’s location, and tax range from 4.5 to 40 percent for casinos and 25 percent Stamp Duty for bingo halls.
– Online gambling operators are taxed according to IEJO. The tax ranges from eight to 30 percent on bingo, games of chance, pari-mutuel, and fixed-odds betting on horse racing, competitive games of chance, and competitive fixed-odds betting on sports and horse racing.
– According to reports, SCML will launch Millions League – a new lottery game – in 2021.
– Gambling funds more than 60 percent of the whole national tourism industry of Portugal. However, the revenue is not impeccable yet – which is why online gambling was fully legalized to raise at least €25 per annum.
– SCML oversees sports betting and lotteries while SRIJ overseas other forms of legal gambling within the country.
– Since online gambling operators started receiving licenses, the Portuguese government have instructed Internet Service Providers in the country to block unlicensed gambling websites. Because of this, the European Union ordered the country to loosen its strict gambling laws – particularly because such laws oppose the EU’s free-market laws. Nonetheless, the country loosened its laws recently and now allow anyone within the regions of Portugal to gamble on any website licensed in an EU territory.
– Online gambling licenses are valid for three years and issued by SCML.
– Online poker company PokerStars received an online gambling license in Portugal in late-2016. Estoril Sol SGPS SA has two online gambling licenses: one for casino games and the other for sports betting. In May 2016, a Betclic subsidiary – BEM Operations Ltd. – received the very first online gambling license; currently, the company has two licenses identical to those of Estoril Sol SGPS SA. As of February 2018, SCML has issued eight online gambling licenses.
– Advertising or marketing of casino gambling services is strongly prohibited in Portugal.
– Gaming machines are restricted to casinos exclusively. Therefore, there are no legal gaming arcades in the country.
– There are more than 243 gambling websites that accept players from Portugal.
– Just like every other European Union territory, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has forced Portugal to allow foreign gambling websites (within the European Economic Area) to offer their services to players in Portugal.
– Totobola is a game of sports pool betting by SCML.
– Bitcoin gambling is available in Portugal. Despite the fact that the Bank of Portugal broadcasted its disapproval of the cryptocurrency because of its vulnerability, the government does not prohibit Portuguese from trading virtual currencies. Therefore, one can easily gamble with Bitcoin in Portugal.
– In 2017, more than 4,600 Portuguese signed a petition – presented by ANAon (National Association of Online Gamblers) – to lower the tax rate following a report that a State taxman requested a 66 percent tax on the revenues of online gambling operator Betclic. The taxation policy is expected to be reviewed and revised in 2018.