by Oana Mihalache
Latvia stands for a small gambling empire. The Republic of Latvia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe and it’s bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus and by a maritime border to the west with Sweden. Latvia was established as a democratic parliamentary republic in 1918 and gained its independence from the Ex-Soviet Union in 1991. The capital city is Riga, which was also declared the European Capital of Culture in 2014. Latvia joined the Eurozone in 2013 and was the 18th country to join the single currency union. “For Latvia, it is the result of impressive efforts and the unwavering determination of the authorities and the Latvian people”, said Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. More than a third of the population lives in the capital and we will further see how this is reflected in the gambling industry.
Latvian Gambling: the Path of Glory
Latvia has 6 cities with gambling facilities, which have 35 legal gambling facilities consisting in casinos (electronic and live). The largest gambling city is Riga, with more than half of the total industry: 26 gambling facilities, 133 table games, 447 gaming slots and video poker machines. Latvian gambling operations began to flourish after the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union but this kind of activities were completely unregulated until 1998.
The gambling activities are now regulated by the Gambling Supervisory Inspection, whose regulatory board has issued 17 licenses as of 2013. Profits reveal a successful industry, with a total of EUR 180 million in turnover for the year 2012, the majority of which came from slot machines. Numbers speak for themselves: 8149 slot machines were counted around the country in 2013. Licenses are now only given to companies that are registered with the Register of Enterprises of the Republic of Latvia, and a license is valid for 10 years.
All in the Players’ Interest
The first gambling regulation was introduced in 1994, which made the sports betting more complicated to provide, and the service almost ceased to exist. However, in the late nineties, along with the economic growth, the emergence of casinos and the increasing popularity of slot machines, sports betting also became popular. The Latvian casino industry at large experienced explosive growth in the 1990s and the late 2000s. Since then, the Latvian market has been unstable, but new regulations make the gambling sector more and more attractive for players.
A draft project issued in July 2011 was announced to ensure that the interest of the public and rights of the players are protected. It has been argued that the existing law was not fulfilling its purpose in relation to online gambling, and the new law was intended to introduce tighter controls over gambling advertising and the operators not licensed in Latvia.
The Long Expected Liberalization
A new gambling law that took effect in 2013 brought some relevant changes that will make Latvia follow in the footsteps of its more liberal neighbor Estonia. The main focus of the law concerns the updating of the online gambling regulations and a 5% tax on gross revenues.
In the same year, Saeima, the parliament of the Republic of Latvia, approved a draft project that provides for a 10% increase in the Gambling tax. This initiative was based on the fact that economists have recently noticed an increase in the entertainment area, with a considerable contribution coming from the gambling sector. Moreover, a statement made by Igor Kasyanov, an economist for the Bank of Latvia, reveals that is the gambling sector that drives the entertainment sector forward. For example, if we consider the case of the Estonian casino operator OEG in Latvia, we can see that compared to the third quarter of 2012, its profits in the Latvian gambling increased by 26%. 2013 has also shown a significant increase for the lottery organizers, an activity which increased by 20% comparing to 2012.
Olympic Voodoo Casino – a Trademark in the Latvian Entertainment
Voodoo is known as the largest casino in the Baltic States and offers 24 hours gaming tables and 115 slot machines. The 26 table games to choose from feature Blackjack, American Roulette, Texas Hold’em, four and five card poker. The theme of the casino is not hard to guess: a kooky voodoo style featuring giant masks, hypnotic swirling carpets and animal print sofas. Voodoo is the place to be for those who like a bustling crowded atmosphere and the commercial vibe of a fancy casino.