Betting in Portugal

The legality of gambling in Portugal can be a bit confusing to understand. On one hand, the country sanctioned all manner of wagering in its former colony of Macau for many decades, from casino table games and slot machines to jai alai and dog racing. Back home in Europe, however, games of chance are, in principle, prohibited under Portuguese law.

This dichotomy is resolved, at least in the minds of Portuguese officials, by reserving for the state the right “to authorize the operation of one or more such games according to a system that it deems appropriate.”

The statutes further state that “Such games may be operated directly, through either a state body or a body controlled directly by the state; alternatively, the state may allow profit-making or not-for-profit private entities to operate such games by inviting tenders in accordance with the Code of Administrative Procedure.”

In other words, whether gambling activities are legal or not depends entirely upon the whims of the central government. This “system” has led to some serious problems for bookmakers and casino operators who want to reach the Portuguese public. On the face of it, they should be able to apply for licenses.

But it is not that easy. According to Portuguese law, three categories of gaming are recognized—raffles and similar games; casino games; and lotteries, lotto games and sports betting—each falling under a different legal framework. The former category has little economic impact and it therefore not a major consideration. The other two, however, are treated quite differently. In reality, all betting activities in the country function as a monopoly.

Concessions granted under an administrative contract have resulted in the creation of casinos, but only one each in eleven legally authorized locations, effectively blocking competition, even in the capital city of Lisbon. Similarly, the Loteria Nacional is the only legal lottery in the country, and the Games Department of Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa (SCML) has been granted exclusive rights to all sports wagering.

Two sports betting games are offered by the SCML: Totoloto and Loto2. No fixed-odds bets are allowed in Portugal, thus all betting is mutual. The SCML products are distributed through some 5,000 licensed ticket sellers throughout the country. The biggest reseller is CAMPIÃO, which can claim to be the world’s oldest lottery house, in existence since 1840. It comprises more than a third of all Portuguese sportsbook ticket sellers.

Control of the sportsbook monopoly was challenged by Bwin Entertainment in 2005, when the online bookmaker attempted to sponsor the Portuguese Football League. Following an unfavourable court decision and an appeal, Bwin was prohibited from such participation, and no entity, foreign or domestic, has been granted a license to offer gambling on the Internet.

Not satisfied with the judicial process, Bwin continued to offer a Portuguese version of its online sportsbook. In retaliation, the Portuguese government instituted a total ban on foreign Internet betting and other gambling sites. The move included an order for Portuguese ISPs to block access to major foreign gambling websites so that local players would be unable to visit them.

But the Internet is not as easy to control as land-based betting shops, and the ban has proven difficult to enforce. Portuguese residents still find ways to wager on sports with online bookmakers based outside the country. CasinoCity has counted 471 English-language race and sports betting web sites that offer wagering opportunities to bettors with Portuguese addresses, plus 27 that support the Portuguese language, including Ladbrokes, Bet365 and Unibet, among others.

The Portuguese Escudo was removed from circulation on 2002, so all wagering is based in Euros. Fully 2,165 Visa credit-related gaming sites welcome bets from Portugal—355 of which provide support in Portuguese. For MasterCard, the comparable numbers are 2,063 sites of which 345 are available in Portuguese. Many eWallets, including NETeller and Moneybookers, also welcome transactions from customers based in Portugal.