Albania to ban all casinos, sports betting shops in residential areas

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times October 10, 2018 12:39

Albania to ban all casinos, sports betting shops in residential areas

Story Highlights

  • “Starting January 1, no shutters will open for betting and as already envisaged by the current law and no shutters will open for electronic casinos in any residential area in the 28,000 km2 of the Republic of Albania,” says Prime Minister Edi Rama

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TIRANA, Oct. 10 - The Albanian government says it will also ban sports betting shops from residential areas starting next January in addition to a warned relocation of electronic casinos in a bid to curb a booming phenomenon which costs Albanians more than a hundred million euros a year and has a series of negative economic and social effects for one of Europe's poorest countries.

The ban on the booming sports betting industry comes following a two-year extension to a law disciplining gambling in downtown areas by relocating electronic casinos to the outskirts and setting a 100 meter aerial distance for sports betting shops from religious or educational institutions and from each other. Initially scheduled to become effective in January 2017, the legal changes were postponed for January 2019 in apparent successful lobbying by a booming industry that employs thousands of people and generates more than a hundred million in income.

"Starting December 31, all electronic casinos will cease their operations under the gambling law. Today's (Tuesday) change also involves sports betting as well as any bet for every kind of race involving horses, dogs or any kind of slave of the Albanian fauna," Prime Minister Rama told journalists following a government meeting.

"Starting January 1, no shutters will open for betting and as already envisaged by the current law and no shutters will open for electronic casinos in any residential area in the 28,000 km2 of the Republic of Albania," added Rama.

The government says it is also working to discipline online gambling and immediately implement a ban on gambling advertising which it says has been largely ignored by the media.

Finance minister Arben Ahmetaj had earlier warned the legal changes would only affect electronic casinos, but not sports betting shops which were initially set to be reduced at a distance of not less than 200 meters from each other next January even in downtown areas.

His comments came last September as the ruling majority approved some changes to the gambling law, also unifying taxation to 15 percent of gross earnings even for the loss-making Austrian-run National Lottery which in 2013 was given a 10-year licence to organize Albania's first ever national lottery and offered a 10 percent tax rate.

The legal changes were initially vetoed by the country's president who argued they failed to discourage a booming business with negative effects for the country's economy and society.


Expert hails initiative

Economy expert Arben Malaj has hailed the government decision against a booming industry that was having costs for Albanian households through an increase in the number of divorces and crime rates.

"We have to admit that there is no other country, either from Eastern Europe to have such massive gambling invasion in downtown areas, next to schools and everywhere, making it easy to become a victim," Malaj, a former finance minister, has told a local TV.

"This industry is controlled by experts who manipulate even psychologically, so that the ones who gamble become victims. That's why it has turned into a national concern and in this respect the measure is adequate," he adds.

Already adopted legal changes limit the geographical location of casinos only to areas determined for tourism development or five-star hotels or tourist resorts and while new amendments are also set to relocate the booming sports betting shops in the outskirts.


Relocation effects

The relocation of the gambling industry to rural non-populated areas is an old initiative that is finally being implemented following consecutive delays in the past five years.

If strictly implemented even for sports betting shops, the relocation to rural areas is expected to provide a severe blow to a booming industry which last year generated more than €130 million in income and paid about €50 million in taxes, not to mention a significant reduction in staff and massive closure of coffee bars that served as betting shops.

However, Albanians would practically have more disposable income and negative social effects associated with gambling would sharply reduce.

Albania had more than 3,900 betting shops at a rate of 1 per 730 local residents this year, setting a European record, according to data obtained by local media.


Transfer saga

Transferring casinos outside Tirana is an initiative that began in 2012 when former Tirana mayor Lulzim Basha, the current leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, imposed higher tax burden for casinos operating in downtown Tirana, but failed to displace them outside Tirana, including the country's sole casino that still operates in the city center.

Back in October 2013, soon after Edi Rama took office as the country's Prime Minister, he initiated a nationwide campaign dubbed "The End of Madness" that closed down dozens of illegal gambling businesses, vowing zero tolerance to an activity which he said "cannot be the future of the country even legally."

However, five years on, gambling remains a booming business and casinos and betting shops have grown in numbers and are even found close to schools or religious institutions.

Albanians reportedly spent a record 16.6 billion lek (€132 mln) in gambling in 2017, up 10 percent compared to the previous year, according to turnover data reported by the main electronic casino, lottery and sports betting companies.

Gambling is a booming business in Albania and varies from lotteries, electronic casinos and more numerous sports betting shops. A gambling law, which has been in force for several years, bans people under 21 from entering betting shops, but regardless, teenagers are often seen there.

The booming gambling businesses is often linked to gangs laundering crime and drug proceeds. There have been also 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 October 10, 2018 12:39