Bulgaria’s gambling industry has been undergoing significant changes in recent months as the country’s government seeks to tighten regulations and enhance protections for vulnerable groups. The latest developments involve amendments to the Gambling Act, which have passed their first reading and are now undergoing a second reading before being presented to the National Assembly for a final vote. This blog post will delve into the details of these amendments and their potential impact on the gambling industry in Bulgaria.

One of the most notable changes to the initial draft of the amendments was the introduction of the “10,000 rule”. This rule prohibits the establishment of gambling venues in areas with a population of up to 10,000 citizens, a significant increase from the initial draft’s limit of 5,000 citizens.

During the emergency meeting convened by the Budget and Finance Commission, Dimo Drenchev, a representative of the nationalist Vazrazhdane party, requested additional information from the Ministry of Finance regarding the potential impact of this restriction. Irena Hristova, Director of Tax Policy to the Ministry of Finance, revealed that there are currently 104 land-based gambling venues located in towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. However, she was unable to provide an estimate of the number of job losses that could result from the implementation of this rule.

Another key aspect of the revised proposal is the inclusion of a clause defining the minimum distance of land-based gambling venues from places frequented by vulnerable groups, particularly children. The proposed distance, which will be included in the final vote, is set at 300 metres away from community centres, public libraries, student accommodations, and children’s playgrounds. This measure aims to minimize the exposure of vulnerable individuals to gambling activities and reduce the potential for addiction.

The issue of gambling advertisements was also a central point of discussion during the meeting. Currently, licensed operators in Bulgaria voluntarily include warnings about gambling harm in their promotional messages. However, the revised proposal mandates that 10 percent of all advertising space be dedicated to such warnings, emphasizing the importance of responsible gambling practices.

Furthermore, co-author of the amendments, Yordan Tsonev, has proposed a blanket ban on gambling advertisements across radio, TV, print, and online publishing platforms. This proposal remains unchanged from the initial draft, indicating a strong commitment to curbing the pervasive influence of gambling advertisements in the country.

Despite the intentions behind the proposed amendments, there has been opposition from various political parties. During a plenary session, a minority of populist representatives voted in favor of the amendments put forward by Kostadin Kostadinov of the Vazrazhdane party, while the political majority chose to abstain. As a result, the amendments were rejected with a vote of 67-29.

Voices of dissent from GERB-UDF warned against the potentially negative effects on municipal sporting institutions, arguing that such measures would merely scratch the surface of the root causes of addiction. There were also concerns raised about the potential economic impact of the amendments, particularly in terms of venue closures and job losses.

Bulgaria’s efforts to overhaul its gambling regulations reflect a growing global trend towards enhancing protections for vulnerable groups and promoting responsible gambling practices. While the proposed amendments faced opposition due to concerns about their potential impact on the economy and the effectiveness of the measures in addressing the root causes of addiction, they represent a significant step towards creating a safer and more responsible gambling environment in the country.

As the final vote approaches, it remains to be seen how these amendments will shape the future of Bulgaria’s gambling industry. Stakeholders, including gamers, legal professionals, and government regulators, will need to stay informed about the latest developments and adapt to the changing regulatory landscape accordingly.

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