Albania launches crackdown on illegal gambling following nationwide ban

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 8, 2019 15:22

Albania launches crackdown on illegal gambling following nationwide ban

Story Highlights

  • The police operations would sound ridiculous until late 2018 when gambling was a booming business, with electronic casinos and sports betting shops scattered throughout the country and operating even next to schools and religious institutions and gambling a popular sport even among teens who were banned to gamble

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By Ervin Lisaku

TIRANA, Jan. 8 – With a nationwide ban on gambling in force since Jan. 1, thousands of gambling businesses have officially closed down, bringing to an end what had become a booming industry, but a small number of illegal electronic casinos and sports betting shops continue operating secretly throughout the country.

Albanian police have identified more than a dozen cases of illegal gambling activities in Tirana and outside the Albanian capital city in the past few days and initiated legal action against ten people, including three gamblers, for organizing and participating in illegal gambling activities, in legal sanctions that could see them fined or face a prison sentence of up to six months.

Police say they have seized electronic gaming equipment and poker tables during the first eight days that the gambling ban has been in force and warned of tough nationwide inspections and penalties, inviting citizens to use their emergency phone numbers and mobile apps to report cases of illegal gambling.

In one case in Korça, southeast Albania, police said they filed criminal charges against the 48-year old owner of a coffee bar and three other Korça residents who were caught gambling during the police raid.

The police operations would sound ridiculous until late 2018 when gambling was a booming business, with electronic casinos and sports betting shops scattered throughout the country and operating even next to schools and religious institutions and gambling a popular sport even among teens who were banned to gamble. Much of the sector was informal with Prime Minister Edi Rama estimating the annual turnover at €500 million, almost four times higher than the official figures.

Outgoing finance minister Arben Ahmetaj said few days ago that only a minimum number of former gambling businesses were secretly continuing their operations online and “the battle against gambling would continue even in small coffee bars where iPads are used to gamble online.”

Prime Minister Rama recently boasted at a TV comedy show that the gambling ban was saving Albanians €1 million a day.

The partial nationwide ban of gambling that the Albanian ruling Socialist Party majority approved in late October 2018, bans electronic casinos from residential areas and temporarily freezes the booming sports betting industry, including online betting, until new legislation that could turn it into a state monopoly or set new rules to discipline their operation.

Legal changes have affected thousands of betting shops that will apparently not be able to survive as mere coffee shops without the lucrative sport betting business that allowed them to pay up to €3,000 in monthly rents for downtown Tirana facilities, more than double another non-gambling business could afford paying. Hundreds of former gambling shops have already been offered for rent after closing down their businesses in an operation that is expected to cut down rental rates.

While the country’s sole real casino offering live table games and located downtown Tirana has not been affected by recent legal changes, hundreds of electronic casinos will be relocated to 5-star hotels or  tourist areas with national importance that are yet to be determined by the government. Legal changes also do not apply to TV bingos, including the National Lottery.

Gambling was a completely privately-run industry in Albania where until last year it officially generated more than €130 million in annual income, paid about €50 million in taxes and employed some 7,000 people, but much more if the informal sector was taken into account.

Experts had blamed the booming gambling industry for a series of negative economic and social effects, often associated with higher domestic violence and divorce rates.

The booming gambling businesses was often linked to gangs laundering crime and drug proceeds. There have also been cases when even senior officials and judges have justified some of their income through winnings in betting shops or casinos in their wealth declarations.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 8, 2019 15:22