Parliament Bans Privately Operated Lotteries

NW 16:52:01 07-02-2020

Parliament Bans
Privately Operated

Sofia, February 7 (BTA) - Without a debate, Bulgaria's National Assembly Friday conclusively amended the Gambling Act practically banning privately operated lotteries in the country and making this business a State monopoly. Under the amendments, a licence to organize lotteries may be issued solely to the State, and the State-owned Bulgarian Sports Totalizator (BST) alone will be able to administrate lotteries with the exception of raffles, Bingo, Keno and their varieties.

The revisions do not provide for a transitional period, and immediately after they enter into force all private lotteries, including the immensely popular Lottery Bulgaria and National Lottery (operated by companies owned by gambling mogul Vassil Bojkov) will automatically forfeit their licences and will have to discontinue the distribution and sale of tickets and cards for participation in their games and to destroy the unsold tickets until the end of 2020.

The bill's sponsor, Valeri Simeonov MP of the United Patriots, expects the law to be gazetted next week. This must be done within 14 days of the passage of the legislation, unless the President vetoes it.

Simeonov reasoned his motion by a scratch card lottery craze that has gripped Bulgaria in recent years and has assumed epidemic proportions, especially among adolescents and socially disadvantaged people. Capital weekly estimates that 100 million scratch cards were sold in the country in 2017, and a Gallup poll found that 57 per cent of Bulgarians engage in some form of gambling. Experts rank Bulgaria's gambling industry (employing 177,000 people) as the second biggest in the EU after Malta's. Bulgaria is the only EU Member State in which the law does not require lottery operators to donate a portion of their profits to good causes. TV commercials of lotteries and scratch cards are technically banned, but broadcasters are allowed to show draws and interviews with winners, as a result of which they dominate the TV slots for commercials.

Gambling companies were the biggest advertisers on Bulgarian television in 2017.

Neither Simeonov's bill nor the version adopted, however, provide for a restriction of another, just as dangerously addictive and burgeoning form of gambling: one arm bandit halls.

The BST will have to carry out its gambling activity on own or rented premises, which are self-contained and expressly marked as such. Lottery winnings may not be paid out outside the designated outlets or outside banks.

Games of chance can no longer be organized in buildings constituting condominium ownership without the consent of the owners given at a general meeting.

Lottery tickets, coupons and cards may not be sold to persons aged under 18.

Parliament voted down a motion by BSP for Bulgaria to impose a total ban on advertising for gambling. Simeonov described the proposal as "very apt and bold" but he himself abstained when it was put to the vote because, he argued, this restriction would expose to a risk the existence of a number of sports clubs and federations which rely on advertisements as a source of income.

After the vote, Socialist MP Kroum Zarkov said that his parliamentary group did not back the so-called etatization of this business because it did not see sufficient guarantees for it. BSP for Bulgaria proposed a restriction on aggressive advertising as it leads to "addiction to this dangerous product". The Socialists also supported a limitation of the sale of lottery tickets.

Simeonov told journalists that all unpaid winners can take action to get their winnings according to the common rules of the games concerned or can sue the organizers. He does not think that the State can be a respondent in such cases because the bets have already been made and the draws have already been held.

The MP said that the number of scratch cards imported and released for sale in Bulgaria is suspected to mismatch the number registered with the State Commission for Gambling (SCG), and this discrepancy will be probed shortly.

Simeonov dismissed as fake news allegations that the gambling market is being redistributed from one private operator to another, arguing that the BST may not be awarded to a concessionaire or privatized.

The Gambling Act amendments came to the limelight after a massive crackdown on Vassil Bojkov in recent days. An audit found that his lotteries had paid lower licensing fees than the BST with the SCG turning a blind eye, while the Exchequer had lost half a billion leva in revenue. Law enforcers conducted checks at the Commission, and its former and incumbent chairmen were arrested. Bojkov himself was charged with evasion of fees, money laundering, extortion, bribery, murder and rape, and leading an organized crime group since 2014. He left the country before the attack against him went in full swing and was later arrested in the United Arab Emirates, from where Bulgaria hopes to get him extradited. RY, LN/LG