Date: 02.05.2024

by Kajetan Sawicz

Bulgaria Implements Stringent Gambling Ad Bans Amid Media Concerns

Bulgaria has taken a decisive step in reshaping its gambling landscape by banning the opening of casinos in towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants and completely prohibiting gambling advertising across all media types.

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Swift Legislative Action

The bill, introduced by political parties GERB (EPP) and DPS (Renew Europe), was rapidly moved through parliament, securing an impressive 198 out of 240 votes in favor.

This unanimous decision underscores the legislative commitment to curtail gambling activities that have been linked to the largest corruption scandal in Bulgaria in recent years.

Impact on Media and Advertising

The prohibition extends to all forms of gambling advertising, which had become notably pervasive since 2015 when the gambling sector was dominated by figures like Vasil Bozhkov.

Following the shutdown of Bozhkov’s operations in 2020 due to corruption charges, online gambling entities like Efbet, Winbet, and Greek company Betano took the lead, spending approximately €85 million on media advertising in 2023 alone.

Media’s Financial Concerns

The ban has raised alarms among national TV stations and several news websites, which have become heavily reliant on advertising from betting websites.

The Association of Bulgarian Broadcasters (ABRO) has argued that the ban could threaten the provision of quality media services, as financial sustainability through gambling advertising plays a crucial role in supporting quality journalism.

Potential Rise of Unregulated Gambling

Stilyan Shishkov, founder of Bulgaria’s largest sports news website Sportal.bg and executive director of the Bulgarian Gambling Association, expressed concerns that restricting advertising could inadvertently boost the “grey sector.”

He pointed out that similar restrictions in other European markets led to increased activity by unlicensed sites, which complicates the state’s ability to collect taxes and offer user protections.

Restriction Details and Exceptions

Under the new law, gambling companies are only permitted to advertise outdoors on billboards located at least 300 meters away from educational and sports facilities.

The only exception to the advertising ban is the state lottery “Bulgarian Sports Totalisator,” which is mandated to use its profits to support Bulgarian sports.

Regional Comparisons

Similar restrictions line is in the Romanian gambling market, where the Prime Minister warned that non-compliance with laws aimed at reducing gambling addiction could result in revoked licenses.

These parallel movements highlight a regional trend toward stricter gambling regulations.

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