Casinos to See a Return to Albania?

The Albanian Gambling Supervision Authority posted an open call in September for submissions from casino operators who want to open shop in Tirana, seemingly reversing a two-year-old decision to ban gambling in the region. Currently, the only casino in operation in the area is the Tirana’s Regency Hotel casino which just renewed its license in early 2020.

Now, amidst rumours of cronyism, Albania may see a return of casinos to the capital in a “casino zone” designated by the government. The area is the target of several new construction projects, part of a larger plan to restructure some of the post-Hoxha infrastructure issues in Skanderbeg Square.

Lifting the Ban

Changes to the country’s gambling laws were signed off on by deputy Prime Minister Erion Braçe, allowing an area of Tirana to serve as the legal establishing grounds for any incoming casinos. The amendment to the ban came into effect immediately after approval on September 2 and was published in the official gazette on September 8.

Gambling Restrictions

In 2018, Albania’s parliament passed a law to ban gambling in residential areas as well as online casino sites, slot parlors, and sports betting. The hope was that eliminating gambling, even temporarily, would help combat rampant match-fixing in sports, gambling addiction contributing to poverty, and crime in general.

Gambling advertisements were also prohibited before this point, a law the Albanian government promised to reinforce. The restrictions pushed legal gambling to the outskirts of towns and left the casino inside the Tirana Regency Hotel, owned by Adria Entertainment (formerly known as Apex-al), as the only remaining casino in the region.

Critics and Crime

At the time it was implemented, the ban received some criticism, mostly because of observations surrounding Prime Minister Edi Rama’s conflict of interest. Most of the comments were regarding the only company authorised by the Albanian state to offer online wagers, BastArena, which belongs to Olsi Rama, the brother of the Prime Minister.

When the government voiced it would crack down on advertisements to do with gambling, critics were eager to point out Rama’s brother was often one of the most egregious offenders. Olsi Rama also is reported to have connections to a company that is paid to monitor gambling operations and collects a tariff from the country’s operators.

As of August 1, 2020, the Grand Casino Tirana has been operating in the Maritim Hotel Plaza Tirana, owned by both Olsi Rama and Edi Rama. The license for the casino was issued just three months ago and without a public tender, allegedly because of the ownership.

Rules for Operating

For casinos that would like to apply now during the open submission period, there are just a few rules for those that want to see if they’re eligible. All casinos that want to do business in Tirana must be experienced in the industry, be a joint-stock company, and have at least $11.4m in capital reserves. The submission deadline is October 22, after which the Gambling Supervision Authority will review all applicants for consideration.

Uncertain Terms

Since the announcement of the amendment and the open-call for casino applicants, there has been some doubt as to whether the approval is genuine. Opposition lawmakers have called for an investigation into possible corruption, while Edi Rama made statements in early October when speaking with the media refuting the potential issuing of licenses. Critics are once again calling attention to the Prime Minister’s inherent conflict of interest due to his family’s direct involvement with the situation. As more of the scene unfolds, only one thing can be certain–the fate of Albania’s casino industry remains a question for now.

Staying Safe when Gambling Online

Irrespective of where you happen to be based, the same basic rules of safe and responsible online gambling apply. The online gambling policies of some countries and jurisdictions are undeniably questionable, but this needn’t mean taking unnecessary risks.

Of course, if online gambling is prohibited in your area, attempting to play online for real money is inadvisable.  Even if you aren’t busted and held to account for your actions, you could be interesting and unscrupulous third party (or criminal entity) with your important personal and financial information.

Hence, it’s a risk that isn’t worth taking.

If gambling is legal where you are, there’s always the option of taking your business overseas (in a virtual sense). Online gambling has been legalised across much of the world, resulting in thousands of online operators competing for the same business. Competition breeds quality, so playing the field to ensure you get a good deal is the way to go.

A few basics on staying safe when online gambling, irrespective of your jurisdiction and local laws:

  1. Never do business with online casino that isn’t fully licensed and regulated by a recognised and respectable authority. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s a licensing authority or regulatory body you haven’t heard of, it’s probably worth taking your business elsewhere.
  2. Don’t make the mistake of attempting to get round geo blocks with VPNs, as in most instances they exist for a reason. Bear in mind that if (or when) a casino detects you’ve accessed it from a restricted territory, they’ve every right to close your account and keep every penny of your bankroll.
  3. Always check the terms and conditions published by an online casino in full, before even thinking about signing up. If there is anything slightly untoward or suspicious about the whole thing, don’t make the mistake of entrusting them with your personal data.
  4. Last but not least, be sure to check a decent selection of customer reviews and recommendations, prior to doing business with an online casino. This is the best way of gaining impartial and objective insight into how online casinos do business.

Above all else, it’s worth remembering that if the casino you’re looking at is questionable in any way, there’s no shortage of alternative options available.

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