Latvia is targeting both unauthorized online gambling operators and their local customers following amendments to the country’s gambling laws.
Earlier this month, Latvia’s parliament (Saeima) approved amendments to the nation’s gambling laws to limit its citizens’ ability to access to internationally licensed online gambling operators. Going forward, banks are prohibited from processing payments between Latvian punters and sites not approved to operate in the country.
Financial institutions and internet service providers (ISPs) will also be required to forward the names of Latvian citizens who attempt to transact with unauthorized gambling sites. Individuals caught attempting to commit such heinous acts will henceforth face administrative fines of up to €350 per incident. Gamblers couuld face additional punishment for avoiding taxation on their winnings (currently 23% on any sum over €3k).
The amendments also require ISPs to more fully comply with orders to block unauthorized gambling domains. To date, the Lotteries and Gambling Supervisory Inspection of Latvia has blacklisted over 1,500 gambling domains, but local media reported that ISPs have blocked less than one-third of these rogues.
As of December 2018, only nine operators had been approved to offer online gambling within Latvia’s borders, including Olympic Entertainment Group, Optibet, Betsafe, PAF and 11.lv. Collectively, these nine operators reported revenue of €41.1m last year, up from €28.3m in 2017. Casino games accounted for the bulk (€27.6m) of last year’s total.
However, H2 Gambling Capital has estimated that internationally licensed operators may account for as much as two-thirds of Latvia’s overall online market. Hence the need to reduce the appeal of such sites by punishing local gamblers.
As luck would have it, Latvia’s largest gambling operator Optibet announced last week that it was adding poker to its online palette via a deal with the Asian-focused GGNetwork. The two parties already had a relationship outside Latvia via BestPoker.com, another brand of Optibet’s parent company Enlabs.
Meanwhile, Latvia’s land-based gambling industry continues to reel from municipal governments’ war on slots halls. Riga, which last year announced plans to close slots halls in its central district, announced new plans last month to close all 163 such venues located anywhere in the city within five years, except for the two operations currently located in four- or five-star hotels.
This month, the mayor of Latvia’s second city Daugavpils announced that it would follow Riga’s lead and ban gaming halls. Andrejs Elksniņš vowed “there won’t be any gambling halls” in his city once the plans are implemented.