The Latvian gambling regulator (IAUI) has drawn up a blacklist of unlicensed gambling sites that includes high-profile poker sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt, Bet365, Unibet and 888.com, and will demand Internet Service Providers block them from Latvian players. The Baltic nation joins a number of other European countries that have taken similar steps in recent months, such as Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Belgium.
“Internet providers now have obligation to restrict access to illegal online gambling sites,” said IAUI in a statement.
In total, 20 leading online gambling sites have been singled out for the blacklist, with more expected to be added at a later date. The list has been drawn up in accordance with the country’s Gaming and Lottery Law of 2006, which was amended in 2011 to permit the blocking of unlicensed sites by ISPs.
The regulator has also ordered financial institutions to block online gambling transactions between customers and offshore sites. Among the other domains on the list are williamhill.com, betfair.com, bwin.com, expekt.com, casino.com, triobet.com and casinoeuro.com.
Latvia has discussed liberalizing its gambling laws and embracing a free market in the past, but, as the publication of the blacklist shows, it appears more determined than ever to protect its somewhat limited, licensed market from the outside interference of foreign operators. While Latvia was an early regulator of online gambling, first establishing a legislative framework back in 2003, its laws are restrictive.
Under the current regulations, for example, a company applying for a license is not permitted to be majority-owned by foreigners. And while taxation on gross revenue is a very reasonable 5 percent, operators must pay a hefty amount for a license fee, â‚¬417,000 ($559,672) at entry level, plus a fee of â‚¬35,000 ($46,983) each year thereafter. Currently, only five licensed operators offer their services to a population of 2 million: Olympic Casino, Optibet, Synot/SIA Joker, Viensviens and state lottery operator Latvijas Loto.
Just last month, Director and Chairman of IAUI Signe Birne met Charles Coppolani, the president of French online gambling regulatory body ARJEL , to discuss regulatory issues and compare notes, and it seems that the issue of unlicensed operators was at the forefront of the discussion on that occasion.
“The comparison of the two markets did not allow the different parties to find many points in common,” stated ARJEL in a press release at the time, “because of their different nature in terms of structure, supply, and taxation. Although the two systems are not comparable between each other, Latvia shares the same priorities in terms of consumer protection and fight against the illegal supply.”
A spokesman from the Latvian Gaming Business Association (LGBA) stated recently that Latvia’s unlicensed online gambling market was worth â‚¬17.4 million ($23.3 million) per year.