Bill Restricting Gambling Advertising Stalls in Bulgarian National Assembly, Needs EC Green Light

Proposed amendments to Bulgaria’s gambling law will have to be reviewed by the European Commission before coming into effect, members of the country legislature’s Committee on Budget and Finance announced Wednesday.

They said that the move was obligatory as the country’s gambling law was previously ratified by the EC which means that any proposed reforms and additions to its existing provisions will have to be given a formal consent by European commissioners. Bulgaria may face sanctions from the EU, if it fails to provide the newly introduced gambling-focused bill for an EC review.

The Bulgarian Ministry of Finance will now have to prepare the necessary documentation and notify the Commission about the proposed changes to its gambling law. EU commissioners will then have three months to review the legislative piece to determine whether it is in line with European regulations. If the bill survives the three-month standstill period and gains enough traction in the nation’s legislature, there would be no more hurdles before its enactment.

The legislative piece, authored and sponsored by Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov and his party, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, was introduced this spring. The bill aims to curb the aggressive promotion of scratchcards and other lottery and gambling products and services and to limit significantly the number of facilities where scracthcards can be purchased from.

Bulgaria’s regulated gambling market was worth BGN3 billion (approximately $1.9 billion) last year and represented around 3% of the country’s GDP. The local gambling industry has been going from strength to strength over the past several years, with its rapid growth being driven mainly by the rising scratchcards sales.

Concerns over the Future of the Gambling Bill

If approved in its current form, Minster Simenov’s bill would restrict the direct and indirect advertising of scratchcards and other lottery-style games across different media outlets. However, lottery and totalizator draws would still be broadcast on television and the names and of games would still be allowed to be mentioned across media.

Minister Simeonov has also clarified previously that while draws and the names of different lottery games would not be banned from television, winners in such games would no longer be shown under the new bill.

As mentioned above, the legislative piece also aims to restrict the sale of scratchcards and related products to just facilities that are certified by the State Commission on Gambling. At present, scratchcards can be purchased in supermarkets, post offices, and a number of other facilities.

In May, Minster Simeonov’s bill secured backing from the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party (GERB) and from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that a lot of things could change during the three-month standstill period, and that he expects that his piece might even lose some of its momentum in the nation’s legislature.

While ministers reiterated their support for the bill yesterday, it should be noted that it has also seen quite some opposition since it was introduced earlier this year. According to opponents, the limited advertising opportunities and the other proposed changes would hurt tax revenue contributed by the Bulgarian Sports Totalizator to the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The Ministry currently receives BGN26 million in annual totalizator contributions.

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