As hard as it may seem to believe, Latvia is a gambling hotspot in Europe. The small country has several land-based casinos and some licensed (and unlicensed) online gambling sites. While Latvia has been a relative newcomer to the gambling industry, changes to the regulations have happened in the past. A new amendment aimed at adding more limits to gambling in Latvia was recently rejected by the government. In this article, we will take a closer look at what those changes were and how the gambling industry is doing in Latvia. But first, let’s review the gambling timeline to understand the present situation.
A Short History of Gambling In Latvia
Before Latvia became an independent country from the Soviet Union in 1991, the gambling industry in the region was mostly unregulated. The first set of gambling laws to be created was in 1998 when the Lotteries and Gambling Supervisory Inspection was put into law. Along with it was the creation of the Control Department which was tasked to oversee the gambling industry. The group also collected tax fees from all gaming operators. The Latvian government also put the Licensing and Financial Analysis Division in charge of granting licenses to casino operators within the country. It wasn’t until 2005 when the gambling laws were updated with the passing of the Gambling and Lotteries Law. In it was a new framework to address both land-based and online gambling and to ensure that only licensed operators were providing gambling options within the country. This led to the licensing of all land-based and just a few online casinos in Latvia if you’re interested in online slots.
The Most Recent Amendment
On April 15, 2021, proposed amendments to the Gambling and Lotteries Law were rejected by the Latvian government. The changes were to address what has become a gambling problem within Latvia. Stats used to back up the amendment revealed that roughly 80,000 Latvians suffer from some form of gambling addiction with 15,000 of them having what was termed as “severe” gambling issues. The amendments were drafted by the New Conservative Party and KPV LV, Saeima deputy Juris Jurass. According to Jurass, the amendments would have helped move Latvia towards building a stronger society.
“Gambling halls in Latvia are a lasting disease for certain people, it needs to be treated,” Jurass stated. He added that the gambling situation is currently critical and that the government has to do something about it. The vote saw 35 Saeima (Latvian government) deputies in favor of passing the draft onto the Budget and Finance Committee. However, 15 deputies voted against the proposals and another 27 deputies abstained. For some reason, the amendment was rejected although a majority of deputies who voted supported moving it to the next level.
What The Amendment Contained
The main purpose of the amendment was to place a limit on the number of casinos that could be established in Latvia. It was believed that by doing this, the negative effect that gambling has on people and public health could be reduced. The argument was that reducing the number of gambling sites could also reduce the risk of developing a gambling addiction. A study conducted in 2016 by SKDS showed that 26% of the respondents who had indicated they had engaged in gambling activities over the past year admitted to experiencing times when gambling controlled their life to where the outside world did not exist.
Another item in the proposal was to limit where casinos would be permitted. For example, only in four or five-star hotels in Latvia. Hours of operation for gambling halls and casinos were also to be reduced had the amendment to the gambling law been adopted. And finally, alimony avoiders were to be prohibited from gambling. Latvia has a law in place that restricts debtors with a focus on motivating them to make good on the duty of paying alimony to provide financial support for their children. Sadly, without the amendment passing on to the next step of the process, gambling will continue in Latvia untouched.
What The Opposition Had To Say
Opposition deputy Nikolajs Kabanovs indicated that gambling halls were already closed across Latvia since a declaration of a state of emergency had been made. He pointed to the authors of the legislation draft amendment as trying to use it to “distract people from the government’s inability to execute its authority and organize the work of the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Justice in a way to make it impossible for criminal elements to operate in Latvia.” There is no indication of when another attempt will be made at updating the gambling law to address addiction issues, if at all.
Latvian gamblers may have dodged a bullet. Well, the responsible ones did, anyway when a proposal to place limits on casinos and gambling halls did not pass at the legislative level last month. The goal was to control the number and location of these sites in Latvia. Plus, reduced hours of operation were part of the proposal. The main issue at hand is a growing gambling addiction problem and the authors of the amendment viewed their proposal as the first step to reducing the risk and possibly paving the way to help prevent the spread of gambling addiction within their country.
Unfortunately, with a vote that saw the majority of government deputies in favor of passing the amendment along to the next step of the process, a larger number of deputies abstained from the vote which somehow killed the proposal. Naturally, the concept became political with the opposition pointing fingers at the Latvian government stating they were using the amendment as a tactic to distract Latvians away from a perceived lack of ability to work with internal ministries to control gambling to where it would be impossible for organized crime to take over. Although the plan was to curb gambling addiction, the issue got lost along the way. The bottom line is clear though. With a generous revenue stream coming from gambling, the Latvian government is benefitting greatly. Sadly, the source of this income has created the right conditions for a serious gambling problem that could cause more harm than good if not treated sooner than later.