Albania has passed a bill that will ban most forms of gambling in the country’s residential areas. The new law also introduces a blanket ban for online gambling, but this is expected to be for only a short time.
The ban will come into effect on 31 December, and betting locations and slot halls will be shut down in residential areas. From this date, gaming operations will only be allowed at specific areas focusing on tourism.
This means the sole casino in Tirana, the capital, will be allowed to have a gambling offering. Gambling will also be permitted in some areas that are located on the edges of cities and towns.
Members of parliament voted 75-0 in favour of the law. The reason for the unanimous vote was because 45 MPs of opposition parties are currently boycotting the plenary session.
A government monopoly?
Prime Minister Edi Rama had previously examined the proposal. He has talked about how “every kind of online and offline betting” should be eliminated. This is certainly worrying talk for those involved in the gambling sector in Albania.
Some people believe the ban will open up the way for the government to introduce a state-run monopoly on the gambling sector in the future. However, Rama has denied this allegation and called the suggestion that the government would run an online gambling platform as a monopoly is slanderous.
At the moment, the only platform that can continue to provide online gambling is Bastarena. One of its owners is a brother of the prime minister.
A portion of the new legislation states: “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.”
Therefore, a government monopoly is clearly not outside of the realms of possibility.
Before the vote, Rama also alleged that certain MPs had received threatening messages, allegedly warning them not to support a ban. He believes that criminals are heavily involved in the gambling sector and that the introduction of the ban will have serious negative consequences for them.
Effect of the ban
Currently, almost 8,000 people are employed in the gambling sector in Albania. It is likely that the majority of these people will now lose their jobs as a result of the ban.
The finance minister eased concerns somewhat by saying that the government would shortly introduce retraining programs. These would be largely aimed at helping those workers to retrain and acquire new skills that will allow them to find employment elsewhere.
The state has earned a significant intake of gambling revenues in recent times, but the government says it is more concerned with combating some of the social harms associated with gambling, than using it as a source of cash.
The government is also eyeing up the gambling advertising ban, which has long been in place. Enforcement has been poor until now, but a crackdown is likely with the forthcoming ban.
The media has ignored the advertising ban the many years. However, the government has now threatened to shut them down “by force”, if they do not comply.
In the immediate future, televised bingo and the national lottery will continue, along with gambling in large hotels. The market in Albania had been growing rapidly; a recent report showcased revenues of more than $760m.
However, gambling in Albania is problematic. Some families on low incomes are struggling with gambling problems. There have also been questions of integrity in the domestic sports scene. The government will create a task force to monitor any operations that do not comply with the requirements of the new ban.
There has been a backlash from operators in the country. Many are planning to fight the ban and seek compensation for being closed down.
The leader of Albania’s sports betting industry association in Albania, Artan Shyti, told Reuters: “The companies are also evaluating the damages from the unilateral interruption of their licence and mulling legal action to recover the damages.”