BUSINESS

Albania makes good on threat to ban most forms of gambling

TAGs: albania, bastarena

albania-gambling-betting-banAlbania’s government has made good on its threat to ban gambling operations in residential areas, while enacting a (likely temporary) blanket ban on online gambling.

On Thursday, Albania’s legislature voted 75-0 in favor of a plan to eliminate slots halls and betting shops from residential areas as of December 31. Following that date, gaming operations will be restricted to designated tourist areas, like the one casino in a five-star hotel in Albania’s capital Tirana, as well as on the outskirts of towns and cities.

The unanimous vote came without a single contribution from conservative opposition parties, whose 45 MPs have been boycotting the legislature’s current plenary session.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, who previewed the government’s plans earlier this month, said the legislation calls for the elimination of “every kind of online and offline betting.” Rama insisted that recent public comments regarding the government’s plan to impose a new online gambling monopoly were slanderous.

Those comments referenced the fact that the only company currently authorized to offer online wagering is Bastarena, whose owners include the PM’s brother Olsi Rama. Bastarena’s website promotes itself as a “reliable company regularly licensed by the Albanian state” and “the first and only company licensed in the market for remote electronic games.”

And the government’s new legislation notes that “consideration is given to the possibility of treating [sports betting] as a state monopoly and the exercise of this activity by state structures specially set up for its exercise.”

Immediately prior to Thursday’s vote, Rama said his party’s MPs had received threatening text messages warning them against approving the gambling ban. Rama said this was proof that most gambling operators were owned by criminals and that the vote to ban gambling would be parliament’s response.

The local gambling industry reportedly employs between 7k-8k individuals, many of whom will be facing unemployment when the new rules take effect. Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj claimed this week that the government would launch retraining programs to assist gambling staff in obtaining new jobs.

Albania’s government booked a sizable amount of gambling tax revenue last year, but Ahmetaj said the 2019 budget contained no gambling contribution. On Thursday, Rama insisted that the government was more concerned with lessening the potential social harms of gambling than getting paid.

The government also plans to begin enforcing the existing ban on gambling advertising. Local media outlets have long ignored the ban, but the government now says these outlets will need to toe the line or be “closed by force.”

Critics have taunted Rama over social media, claiming that his brother’s company is one of the more aggressive users of local media to promote its existence.

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