Optibet challenges Latvia’s online gambling pandemic suspension


optibet-legal-challenge-latvia-online-gambling-suspensionOnline gambling operator Optibet has filed a legal challenge of Latvia’s decision to suspend online gambling activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Latvian-licensed online gambling operator Optibet filed an appeal with the country’s Constitutional Court challenging Article 9 of the law approved last month that suspended nearly all gambling activity – including interactive gambling – to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Optibet’s Baltic chief Dainis Niedra said the online ban “not only has nothing to do with combating the spread of COVID-19, it also endangers the Latvian population.” Niedra noted the impact on locals who’d signed up for Latvia’s online self-exclusion register, who will now elect to gamble with internationally licensed operators whose actions fall outside the scope of the Lotteries and Gambling Supervision Inspectorate (IAUI).

Georgian Ustinov, CEO of Optibet’s parent company Enlabs AB, warned last month that the legislation “unjustifiably excluded” state-owned lottery operator SJSC Latvijas Loto, which holds a local monopoly on online lottery sales. Niedra said this exemption amounts to illegal state aid under European Union trade rules.

Niedra claimed that some 850 retail lottery outlets remain open and lottery products continue to be advertised on television, making it clear that “the organization of lotteries is not only continuing, but positive information about winnings is made public.” Niedra says this pokes giant holes in the state’s claims about protecting citizens from excessive unnecessary spending during the pandemic.

Niedra argued that the government had plenty of other, less punitive options at its disposal but failed to liaise with the gambling sector on a plan to “voluntarily impose additional restrictions on players” to ensure responsible gambling behavior during this period of enforced self-isolation.

Earlier this month, the Latvian Association of Internet Gambling (LIAB) and the country’s Chamber of Commerce attempted to convince the government to exempt online operators from the gambling suspension but these pleas fell on deaf ears.

Should Optibet’s appeal be rejected by the Constitutional Court, the company and other LIAB members say they will take their case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.