Right while the country was busy with the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way, the human chain that in 1989 saw more than 2 million people from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia join their hands in a peaceful protest against the U.S.S.R., Latvia's Lotteries and Gambling Supervision Inspection (IUAUI) completed the fifth update of the national gambling blacklist.
After locking down some of the most popular international poker rooms such as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and 888poker, the Latvian regulator has decided to keep working to enforce the current legislation and disable access from the country to a total of 102 websites including Unibet, Everest Poker and Playboy Poker.
"Online gambling in Latvia is allowed by the Gambling and Lotteries Law since January 1, 2006. We haven't had a single gambling licensee in Latvia for a long time, but there has always been a wide proposal of illegal and unlicensed online gambling providers," the IUAUI Director Signe Birne told PokerNews.
Although the regulator has somehow tolerated the unlicensed gambling operators during the past years, things changed as soon as some gambling companies decide to apply for one of the State-issued licenses that offer legal access to the Latvian market.
"Last year we have issued four online gambling licenses, and three more are now going through the application process. This led to a strong political pressure to stop the illegal businesses, and that's why we have started to block the unlicensed sites," Birne continued.
"Advertisement and the activities of illegal operators became too aggressive, and that obliged us to proceed with the block of the sites and of all the transactions related to their operations."
According to the Director of Latvia's regulator, most of the operators that decided not to legally enter the Latvian market were pushed away by the investments needed to obtain a license. "Illegal operators have often argued that the requirements set by the gambling law are too strict, and that and license is too expensive," Birne explained.
Things, however, may soon change - as the analysis of Latvia's active enforcement of the gambling law scheduled for the end of 2014 may lead to a new gambling reform that could reshape the Latvian gambling market and bet on a more liberal approach.
"We have already presented a draft to change the gambling law back in 2011, but talks and lobbies slowed the process down."
Although things did not move fast since the draft was proposed in 2011, Birne believes that some changes in Latvia's national government could accelerate the reform. "I hope we will reach the final stages of the process shortly after Latvia's parliamentary elections on October 4 as several key-people at the Ministry of Finance are interested to move towards a new law."
Questioned about the meeting she had in Paris in July, when Latvia's gambling regulator discussed with its French counterpart ARJEL, Birne denied that this had anything to do with the launch of the Internet blacklist and the aggressive policy against illegal operators started in August.
"The blacklist is not connected to the meeting we had with colleagues from ARJEL," Birne pointed out. "Changes in Latvia's Electronic Communications Law (the one that regulates the blocking of Internet websites) were adopted on November 6, 2013 and came into force on August 1, 2014."
The meeting with ARJEL, as Birne explained, was a routine one that involved two state bodies working on the same field. "We had many other discussions with ARJEL during the past," Birne explained.
"We are both Internet gaming regulators, and we have a relatively short experience and knowledge about it. Therefore, we connect with our colleagues from other countries and we try to learn from their experiences in many different fields."
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