Betting in Spain

Few people anywhere in the world enjoy gambling as much as Spaniards. Based upon per capita expenditures, in recent years Spain has ranked right on top with Italy among Europe’s leading nations for gambling activities. In fact, Spaniards wager nearly twice as much per year as Britons do and, according to some estimates, ten times more than is spent on insurance throughout the entire country.

As a government, Spain has always taken a relaxed approach to gambling. Although much of the gambling activity in the past was conducted illegally, the country has never campaigned to deny citizens access to this form of entertainment. Lotteries made up the bulk of the betting until the 1970s. Then skill-based gambling was legalised, followed by games of chance in 1981.

As part of a sweeping reform in 2008, Spain was divided into 17 regions, each one given the authority over local gambling licenses. This decentralisation of control almost immediately led to a boom in the gambling industry, spearheaded by a thrust of new casinos.

Today, no fewer than 71 major gaming facilities exist around the country, including over 60 casinos. Granada alone has four under the Merkur brand, while the Casino Gran Madrid in Torrelodones has a 110,000-square-foot gaming floor and the most famous site is the Casino de Barcelona, with its strict dress code, 263 gaming machines and 52 table and poker games.

Also located around the country now are seven horseracing tracks known as “hipódromo.” Additionally, there are two casino cruise ships that sail the waters of the Mediterranean, too, one each based in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. The legal age to gamble in all regions of Spain is 18 years.

Complementing these major venues are several Jai Alai stadiums, especially in the Basque region, plus bullfighting arenas that continue to attract a loyal following. Neither of these traditional sports can be bet on through bookmaking services, but on-site wagering is common. For a time, Bingo was quite popular, too, but attendance dropped off around 2005, when a restrictive new country-wide smoking policy went into affect.

Sports wagering is still a relatively recent phenomenon here. For decades, it was state-controlled, and the only betting options available were lottery-style pools as opposed to pari-mutuel or fixed-odds. The first legal private Spanish betting shop opened in April of 2008 as part of the reforms.

Today, the 17 regions determine independently how and where sportsbooks can be opened. Once licensed for a region, a bookmaker is free to set up multiple betting shops, offering any sports markets they wish, with the exception of politics and religion, which are banned.

Online sports betting has moved a slower pace in Spain. Plans to allow legal, regulated Internet gambling have been under consideration since 2002, but no licenses have bee issued to date. When the scheduled changes to Spanish gambling laws eventually take place, it is expected that the country will become one of the most attractive gaming markets in Europe and perhaps the world.

In the meantime, some 478 sports betting web sites are already open to residents of Spain from licensing authorities outside the country’s borders. Of those, 99 sites offer support in the Spanish language, including Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Unibet, Expekt, Gamebookers, 888 Sport, Party Bets and BetFred, to name just a few.

Visa Credit is affiliated with some 2,193 Spain-friendly affiliated gaming sites, while MasterCard claims 2,089 such venues. The Euro is the primary currency used. Options for depositing and withdrawing funds are also available via numerous eWallets, such as NETeller and Moneybookers, among many others.