Albania Bans Sports Betting and Gambling
The Kuvendi, Albania’s unicameral parliament, voted to pass a law banning sports betting and other large forms of gambling in a bid to combat gambling addiction, match fixing in sports competitions, and unsavory links with organized crime organizations. The decision made on Oct. 25, 2018 represents a key success of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, a former basketball player critical of the massive gambling industry in the country. Although, sports betting companies have vowed to fight implementation of the legislation and demand compensation for the sudden termination of legal gambling licenses.
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with high levels of corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking. In addition, there is regional instability, including the lingering legacy of the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, hampering efforts by the post-communist government to diversify the economy and join the European Union. Wider allegations of corruption and governmental incompetence have plagued successive Albanian cabinets, with the most recent incident being the surprise resignation of Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj on Oct. 27 over the controversy surrounding his half-brother’s drug conviction and the failure by Albanian police to catch an elusive drug lord in a major drug ring bust last week.
Gambling and sports betting are a major industry in Albania, with over 4,200 sports betting offices for the country’s population of 2.8 million people. While official figures place annual wagers on sports at 150 million euros (171 million USD), analysts point to the massive volume of illegal bets that inflates wagers made on sports betting to a combined 700 million euros (799 million USD) per year. The prevalence of such activities has fueled a rise in illegal betting and gambling venues that the Albanian government has thus far been unable to effectively address. The most recent public scandal over sports betting was in March this year, when the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) formally banned Albania’s top soccer club Skenderbeu for ten years and levied a fine of one million euros (1.14 million USD) due to at least 50 incidences of match-fixing.
On Oct.10, Prime Minister Rama made a surprise announcement declaring that his government intended to ban “sports betting as well as any bet for every kind of race involving horses, dogs, or any kind of slave of the Albanian fauna.” He also announced the planned relocation of electronic casinos away from major urban centers and the implementation of a ban on gambling advertisements, all scheduled to take effect in January 2019.
A parliamentary commission formally endorsed draft legislation to that effect on Oct. 23 after several weeks of intense debate. Amid criticism by opposition parties and gambling industry groups that the government’s ban on private physical gambling venues was designed to create a monopoly on the industry via a government-approved online betting company, amendments to the proposal to ban online gambling outright were tabled and approved by the commission.
The 140-member Kuvendi met on Oct. 25 in full to consider the legislation. With the opposition boycotting the vote, the law was passed with 75 votes in favor and none against. As such, apart from those located in designated tourist areas, five-star hotels, and non-residential sectors, physical gambling venues are to be shuttered by January 2019 in conjunction with the aforementioned blanket ban on online betting (including sports betting of any kind) and gambling advertisements. The legislation does not affect bingos held on television, including the Albanian National Lottery.
Members of the Kuvendi reported receiving anonymous threats by text message over the legislation, which Prime Minister Rama alleged is proof of links between organized criminal organizations and the gambling industry. Calling his efforts to combat widespread gambling in Albania a “frontal war with the evil entrenched deeply in our society over the years,” Rama thanked his fellow Kuvendi members for voting for the measure in the face of “a period of stress with disturbing messages of all kinds.”