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Easier than ever for players

 

 

Riga –Rous Change

The Latvian gaming industry braces itself for a new Gaming Act, taking effect on January 1, 2006.  Stricter controls, bans and more expensive licences are just some of the measures.

On November 17, the Latvian government finally adopted the new Gaming Law that had been drafted over the summer.  The Gaming Board, having taken into consideration gaming trends in Europe, the benefits offered to each country, the best interests of general public etc. has decided upon a set of measures for the country’s new gaming legislation.  As Latvia  recently joined the European Union, the gaming Board consulted with various EU wide polices, though without a specific law on gambling within the European Union, the officials sought their own solutions to the concerns specific to Latvia.  According to Signe Birne of the Latvian Gaming Board: “The organization of the gambling  business in Latvia requires that certain constraints are necessary.  To understand the new law, we must state clearly and directly define the rights of entities  organizing gambling.  If all conditions are clear then there are benefits for everyone,” stated Ms. Birne.  “The social problems relating to difficulties with gambling are for each country to reconcile.  Restrictions are there for a reason,

restructuring the gambling sector makes sure all players are treated fairly, vulnerable players are treated fairly, vulnerable players are protected and social risks minimized.”  In a speech to a gathered assembly of Latvian operators, she explained: “The state must protect vulnerable players, while ensuring that income from this activity is used for benefits of the general public to solve problems in the social sector; to provide entertainment, sports, culture etc.” In terms of figures, 2001-04 the amount of revenue generated by the Lativian gaming industry rose from Lats36m to 70.8m total turnover per year.  Total tax revenue has also grown from 7.9m (11.2m euros) to 16.6m over the same period.  More than 6,000 people are directly employed in the sector, where in 2001 this figure was 2,500.  The contribution o to the GDP of the country from gaming is currently. 

13 percent  of the total figure, while the market volume by the number of gaming machine has also risen, from a 2001 figure of 10,000 machines to 12,000 by 2005.   The lotteries and gambling law has also gone through various revisions and amendments, and as a result the wording of the previous act had become very difficult to understand and was open to interpretation.  However, Ms.  Birne assures that the new Act is very clear.  “From January 1, 2006 no further licenses will be granted to bar locations to offer gaming,” explained Ms. Birne of some of the key changes to the new law.  “As of January 1, 2007 it will be prohibited to issue licenses outside of gaming hall and casinos.”  Local governments are also free to put forward restrictions, but must consider the criteria set out in the law before making regional changes.  Such decisions must have justification and have valid grounds.  But while local governments have already put forward stricter requirements to improve the quality of gaming halls, thee have been further amendments to the Act to limit their intervention within the core parts of the bill.  This has been a bone of contention for many Latvian operators who must abide by the laws of the country and the whims of local government.  The most damaging means of intervention would have been that of the local Riga government, whose plan to impose a gaming ban in the city in 2007, now fails to meet the criteria of the new Act.  “East gaming machine must have a certain square footage around the device, with machines not to be placed next to each other to stop the simultaneous play of several machines by a player,” continued Ms. Birne of the new law.  “No gaming hall can offer less than 20 machines within its location.  In the first six months of the Act, each gaming hall must be transformed to correspond to these requirements.”  In addition to these measures, the new Act insists on the installation of video surveillance at each poker gaming site, monitoring both indoor and outdoor activities by the operator, with casinos additionally to employ professional security companies.  “Casinos must have at least 10 gaming tables in Riga, while outside the capital this falls to five,” said Ms.  Birne.  “The law also states that from January 2006, each casino must ensure that all its machines are registered to one business, one company, under a single license holder.  The next requirement concerns fixed capital, where the current amount for a license is ‘ridiculous,” stated Ms. Birne.  This old sum of Lts 50,000 (71,000 euros) for a gaming license will be phased out as of January 1, 2006, whereby this amount raises to Lts1m (1.45m euros). 

There are further general restrictions on the location of online poker gambling gaming sites, which will include the prohibition of locations near public buildings, hospitals, schools, markets, train stations.  Pubs and cafes will also be prohibited from operating gaming machines from January 1, 2007.  There can be provision of credit or loans made on the premises to a player, while the advertising of gambling will also be prohibited beyond the corporate logo of a firm.  “The government will make available information for the vulnerable to minimize the adverse effects of the gambling industry,”  stated Ms. Birne.  “We will prepare materials to be distributed in gambling sites to the players.  Plans will also outline designs for a special help centre to be created.  And while to date that has been no certification of gaming equipment in Latvia, the new law makes this a compulsory requirement.  Laboratories are to be employed to test devices for the market, with a list of approved labs to be drawn up by cabinet ministers.  The labs will check gaming devices meet the criteria outlined in the Gaming Act.  Certificates will be attached to machines to prove the winning quota, the last 100 games to be stored within the memory of the device using an electronic systems to check the wins, descriptions of online card game where necessary with a software manual supplied by the manufacturer and labels for the machine issued post-certification,” stated Ms.  Birne.  “This requirement will come into allowed without this certificate.  During the next year operators must bring the rest of their equipment up to meet these standards.  Opinion is also to be sought on the Internet games and restrictions.”

OPERATOR’S VIEWPOINT

The Olympic Casino Group is an Estonia-based company that has been operating in Latvia  for over two years, and is currently operating in five different markets.  Operations Director, Hando Suttler, explained that despite the proximity of the countries within the Baltic States, there remain wide differences in the perception of gaming.  “To compare markets, I’d  definitely say that the image of gaming in Latvia is very low,” said Mr. Sutter.  “It is understandable, therefore, that there is considerable pressure placed upon the country’s politicians.  But why is the image of gaming so poor?  Well, the business in Latvia needs investment and it needs to reflect its entertainment potential.  Our plan is to invest around 20m euros in the development of our operations in Latvia and provide a true entertainment experience.  However, the operating environment remains difficult.  A slot casino costs around 1m euros to establish, and then six months later we have to close because a local municipality decides to changes the rules. 

Operators can increase the image of gaming, but whoever the investors are, they need the certainty that the Riga local government, for example, will not change the market rules every month.  It is our common wish that the industry improves its quality, because the better the image, the less pressure there is on the operator.”

 

 

 

 

 
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