Albanian government faces resistance over proposed reintroduction of online gambling

18 Shtator 2023, 18:15Economy TEMA

Albanian government faces resistance over proposed reintroduction of online

Efforts by the Albanian government to reinstate online gambling have encountered opposition from members within its own ruling Socialist Party and the opposing Democratic Party. Albania imposed a ban on all forms of online and offline gambling in 2019, with only a few exceptions made for land-based casinos. However, in 2022, the government unveiled plans to legalize online betting through a new legal framework.

Deputy Finance Minister Vasilika Vjero presented the draft law to the Parliamentary Committee for Economy and Finance recently. The proposal, however, was met with skepticism due to concerns about money laundering risks and potential legal loopholes, EURACTIV reported. Vjero assured that the draft had been subject to consultations with various interest groups, stakeholders, and sporting federations, and emphasized that revenues from licensing would be directed toward supporting the country's sports sector. Nevertheless, other deputies expressed reservations.

Erion Brace, a Socialist Party MP, contended that the consultation process for the law was insufficient and should have included input from those adversely affected by gambling. He also raised questions about the technical control of the sector.

“This commission has the obligation to both demand accountability and provide a solution that does not lead back to the bandits,” Brace said, predicting that “this activity will also turn into a battle between those who are legal and those who are illegal,” as per the report.

Opposition MP Jorida Tabaku pointed out that the proposed law would impact other legislations, including regulations governing the national lottery, financial institutions, and the Financial Supervision Authority. She raised concerns about the efficacy of enforcing the rules, given the previous ban's lack of success.

Two other MPs from the ruling party, Alban Xhelili and Pranvera Resulaj, called for a revision of the draft to address concerns related to tax rates. Xhelili, in particular, questioned the revenue calculation formula for the sector and expressed doubts about the estimated annual revenue of €1 billion, citing the prevalence of cash-based and often illicit gambling in Albania.

“Considering that bets will be online, non-cash payments, personal identification, player registration, do you think that those who gamble 95% of the value will come and gamble with us at this legal one?” he asked.

Brace also demanded that the government provide the assembly with a list of companies granted land-based casino licenses, along with details of their revenue and tax payments.

The Economy Committee will continue its review of the draft legislation, with the relevant ministries expected to address the deputies' inquiries.

Under the proposed regulations, only online gambling with registered and licensed operators would be allowed, subject to stringent requirements, including the acceptance of digital payments, player registration, and the retention of personal data for a minimum of three years. Article 26 of the proposed law stipulates that organizers of sports betting must pre-register every player participating in online sports betting and store their identity data in compliance with relevant data protection legislation.

Monetary deposits would be made digitally through authorized financial agents, which include second-level banks, Albanian Post, and financial institutions licensed by the Bank of Albania, such as Western Union and Unionnet. Operators would also be required to maintain a guarantee for game winners, with liquid assets equivalent to €1.5 million held in a designated bank account, never falling below 5% of total player deposits from the previous fiscal year. Access to this account would be controlled by the Finance Ministry, and an additional deposit of €450,000 for obligations relating to authorities would also be mandated, the report said.

Moreover, operators must run as joint-stock companies headquartered in Albania and registered with the National Business Centre. Shareholders must not have any criminal convictions or be involved in ongoing criminal proceedings. Unlike the previous regime, the new law imposes no limits on the number of licenses that can be issued or accounts that can be opened.

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