On January 1st, 2019, the Albanian government passed the bill that banned gambling in the country, both offline and online. Casino Albania is a search term that no longer produces clickable results as the operators and other websites are blocked, jobs are lost, tax income disappeared, and the residents of the country are finding other ways to gamble, including going to neighbouring Kosovo. Illegal gambling is on the rise as legal gambling was taken out of the equasion.
Betting shops closed
4300 betting shops were closed throughout Albania, and are now only allowed in 5-star hotels in remote locations. The ban was implemented by prime minister Edi Rama as he attempted to solve the real problem Albania had with gambling, and according to him, he succeeded. 8000 jobs have been lost and Albania not only lost 50 million dollars of tax revenue, but also missed out on a chance to regulate operators and to help anyone who is struggling with gambling addiction. With a single signature, Edi Rama pushed his country into the hands of illegal bookies.
Where do Albanians gamble now?
As is known to everyone who knows at least a little bit about gambling regulation, a gambling ban never results in anything good as the good operators leave the market and the shady ones flock to exploit the hole left by the departure of the big brands. Albanian citizens no longer have a place where they can physically place a bet or gamble, at least not in Albania, so they’re using Kosovo online bookmakers and casinos. Using a VPN, the more technically advanced Albanian customers can override the ISP ban and access many online brands. And, last but not least, those who aren’t agile enough to find a solution in one of these ways, can always resort to placing a bet with a shady character or gambling in illegal establishments in some basement. In other words, gambling hasn’t stopped and will never stop, it’s just that the legal gambling stopped. Illegally placed bets are on the rise, and with time they will gain a foothold that will eventually make them impossible to take down.
What should have Edi Rama done?
The smiling prime minister who thinks he saved his country from gambling but actually pushed his country into the abyss of illegal gambling should have chosen a different route. If the existing bookmakers and casinos were shady or run by criminals, then half of the work is done, but the market needs regulation and needs access to the good brands. Preferably, the country would also find a way to offer them licencing and would then take the tax money as well. UKGC is always a good guideline, but it’s questionable can weaker states establish that kind of regulation. In any case, whatever gets good brands to leave the market and lets the bad guys in is wrong. The opposite should be the goal. Give the good brands a legal way to operate in the market and this alone will keep the bad guys out.
There hasn’t been a single case of a gambling ban that resulted in something good, and there hasn’t been a single case of a gambling ban that actually made people stop gambling. They still gamble – they just find other ways to do it. Meanwhile, the governments that were wise enough to regulate gambling and didn’t fall into the “gambling is evil and must be outlawed” trap prosper, get tax money, protect their citizens from harm, and in general are on the road to a brighter future while countries like Albania are reverting to the old days when gambling was a criminal activity.
Also see how the Australian ban and the Dutch regulatory mess affected the respective markets, with a note that the Netherlands is moving in the right direction and will likely put the gambling bill into practice soon.