While Swiss poker players and gamblers are already able to play online, it is not exactly legal due the Swiss government’s unwillingness to regulate these games.
Current legislation taxes earnings from sports betting and lotteries, whereas earnings from Swiss casinos are not, under the 1923 Lotteries and Betting Act and the 1998 Gambling Act.
The new ‘Money Gaming Act’ will introduce a tax exemption for winnings under CHF$1m (~US$1.02m) made from sports betting and lotteries. This should even the playing field for gaming industry revenues.
However, there is strong opposition to that change. The Senate and House of Representatives, along with the government cabinet, maintain that all winnings must be tax-free.
What happens now?
Before Switzerland can offer online poker legally, local internet service providers (ISPs) must block the domains of internationally licensed gambling sites.
This hasn’t gone down well with ISPs. They claim the government is taxing them with extra work despite receiving no additional funding to cover the costs.
If this issue can be resolved, the new online gambling rules should come into play in January 2018.
This will also impact poker players looking for live games. Live poker tournaments could soon be organised outside of casino premises for the first time. That is, on the condition that the tournaments remain small-scale.
Possible referendum could stop online regulation
Not everyone is happy about these rule changes. A voter referendum in Switzerland preventing the new bill is a very real possibility.
Swiss law states that if a group manages to gather 50,000 signatures from Switzerland residents, there will be a national referendum over the changes.
People against it believe that blocking international websites is not something that democratic nations should do. Moreover, Swiss residents should be allowed to play on any site they wish like certain other nations allow.
In 2014 it was estimated that around CHF$100 million (~US$102 million) goes from Switzerland to foreign gambling operators every year.
Campaigners against the Money Gaming Act have 100 days from Oct. 10 to collect the signatures they need.
The people leading the push to halt these changes are the Young Liberals. They are the youth wing of the center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP), with the assistance of the Green Party.
The Pirate Party and the Digitale Gesellschaft, a non-profit group that advocates for internet freedoms, are also behind a referendum. Moreover, the Internet Society Switzerland Chapter (ISOC-CH) announced it too would support it.