Saturday, June 15, 2024

Albanian draft gambling law divides ruling party, opposition equally

Must read

Attempts by the Albanian government to reintroduce online gambling have been met with resistance from members of its own ruling Socialist Party and the opposition Democratic Party.

Albania banned all forms of online and offline gambling in 2019 except for a handful of land-based casinos. But in 2022, the government announced plans to legalise online betting through a new legal framework.

The draft law was presented to the Parliamentary Committee for Economy and Finance by Deputy Finance Minister Vasilika Vjero this week but was not well received due to fears of money laundering and legal loopholes.

Vjero said the draft was consulted with interest groups, stakeholders, and sporting federations, and it is guaranteed that money from the licensing process will go to fund the country’s sports sector. But other deputies were not so convinced.

Socialist Party MP Erion Brace said the consultation of the law was not extensive enough and should have included those who suffered from gambling. He said there were also questions over 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.”

Opposition MP Jorida Tabaku said the law also impacts other pieces of legislation and that this needed to be considered. These include rules governing the national lottery, banks, and the Financial Supervision Authority.

She also raised the issue of money laundering risks and said that the previous ban did not work, meaning she has hesitations about enforcing the rules this time around.

“The fact that it is accepted that this activity continued illegally shows that there is no capacity,” she said.

Two other ruling party MPs, Alban Xhelili and Pranvera Resulaj, asked that the government revise the draft to consider concerns over tax rates. Xhelili, in particular, questioned the formula for calculating revenue for the sector, casting doubts on the €1 billion per year estimate.

He noted that most of Albania’s gambling is done with cash and often illegally, therefore, it would be unlikely to transition online.

“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 asked the government to bring to the assembly a list of the companies granted land-based casino licences, as well as their revenue and the tax they pay.

“In the law we made, the one in force, we said that casinos will be licensed only in 5-star brand name hotels and resorts, and so on. It would be good to have a list for transparency,” he said.

The Economy Committee will continue their review of the draft before the applicable ministries will respond to deputies’ questions.

Under the proposed rules, only gambling online with registered and licensed operators will be permitted, and they will be subject to stringent requirements such as only accepting digital payments, registering players and keeping their personal data for a minimum of three years.

In Article 26, it is stated that the organiser of sports betting has “the obligation to pre-register every player who will participate in online sports betting, as well as to receive and store their identity data for at least three years. The storage of these data shall be done per the legislation in force for the protection of personal data”.

Furthermore, monetary deposits will not be made directly with the operator but digitally through an authorised financial agent. Under the law, agents include second-level banks, Albanian Post, and financial institutions licensed by the Bank of Albania, such as Western Union and Unionnet.

Operators must also be able to provide a guarantee for winners of games of chance, keeping liquid equivalent to €1.5  million in a designated bank account. This amount should never be less than 5% of all deposits made by players in the previous financial year, and access to the account is controlled by the Finance Ministry.

In addition, a second deposit of €450,000 must be designated in another fund for obligations relating to the authorities.

They must also be a joint-stock company headquartered in Albania and registered with the National Business Centre. Any shareholders must not have any criminal convictions or be in a judicial process for criminal offences.

Before the ban, there were more than 4,700 gambling shops across the country, while under the new law, there is no limit to the number of licences that can be issued or accounts that can be opened.

(Alice Taylor | Euractiv.com)

Read more with Euractiv

Subscribe now to our newsletter EU Elections Decoded

Latest article