August 29, 2010

Bulgaria promises prison for unlicensed internet gambling operators

A draft proposal for changes to Bulgarian gambling laws provides a regime for the legalization, licensing and regulation of online gambling in the country, but at a price. The proposal, which lawmakers hope to have put into place by the end of the year, promises that any person operating an online gambling site operating in the country without a license can face up to five years in jail and fines between 20,000 to 50,000 leva (€10,000 to €25,000).

It would seem the simple way to avoid imprisonment would be to simply apply for a license, but the requirements are strict. Any gambling operator wishing to obtain a gambling license in Bulgaria must invest at least €500,000 in its online gambling site in Bulgaria in order to be eligible. The group must also have a physical presence in the country in the form of “payment shops” where players can go to make deposits and cash out their winnings. The justification for this is that in Bulgaria cash is still the primary payment method, so the lawmakers who drafted the bill felt it necessary to include this requirement.

The proposed law also includes a clause that will require Bulgarian ISPs to filter the internet, blocking unlicensed gambling sites. Local ISPs are already complaining about the requirement, stating the same arguments being made across Europe where similar internet filters are being implemented. Trying to censor the internet in this way, they argue, is not only technically difficult, it is also very ineffective. Players who want to find a way around the filters will have little trouble doing so.

Current gambling law in country is not very clear, and these changes are being made in hopes of solidifying the government’s tough stance on internet gambling in Bulgaria.

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