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Bright expectations for Bulgaria's gambling tourism

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Jan 31, 2008

Bright expectations for Bulgaria's gambling tourism
Serge Nanovsky

On the initiative of Bulgaria's State Commission on Gambling (SCG) on January 30 representatives of the gambling branch, academic circles and of the Chief Directorate for Combating Organised Crime (CDCOC) gathered for a conference at the University for National and World Economy (UNWE) in search of “highly efficient decisions” on the gambling business, Dnevnik daily said. The aim of the conference was to specify amendments in the Gambling Law.

“Gambling tourism is a resource Bulgaria has not exploited. A national gambling development programme needs to be drawn up as part of the tourism industry,” Deputy Finance Minsiter Atanas Kunchev said during the conference. Kunchev also said that gambling needed a national information system and well-trained staff and proposed that master's programmes on gambling management be set up.

Kunchev, of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), presented his idea at a time when the tourism branch was discussing the newest integral strategy on tourism industry development, Dnevnik daily said. However, the strategy did not include a gambling tourism. Later Kunchev specified this was just and idea that was to be discussed. If it found support, work on its realisation would start.

Although gambling tourism did not officially have a place in the tourism strategy it practically existed and developed quite successfully in recent years, Dnevnik daily commented.

Most big Sofia hotels such as Hemus, Rila and Rodina have casinos and rely on income from them. Another part of the gambling tourism is concentrated at the sea resorts around Varna. The casinos there are most visited by Israeli tourists who come for a couple of days to Bulgaria to gamble.

In 2007 gambling entered Svilengrad where Turkish gambling boss and businessman Sudi Özkan invested in two casinos, Dnevnik daily said. Svilengrad was attractive for investments in gambling as it could draw gamblers from Turkey where casinos are banned, representatives of the gambling branch commented.

Representatives of the State Agency for Tourism (SAT) said nobody had discussed with them the idea that Bulgaria establish itself as a gambling destination. They commented that although gambling could attract rich tourists, it had to be strictly controlled. SAT chairperson Aneliya Kroushkova said at present there was no way to incorporate gambling tourism in the tourism strategy that was currently under discussion.

SCG chairman Dimitar Terziev said he was in favour of incorporating gambling in the tourism strategy and that the idea had to be taken into consideration, Dnevnik daily said.

As far as the amendments in the Gambling Law were concerned, Terziev said changes would be mainly in three aspects; text message games, online bets and illegal gambling.

He said that world practice in online betting varied from total banned to total legalisation, but that in his opinion, Bulgaria should find a middle ground. One of the basic weaknesses of the current law was there was no regulation on organising gambling games over the Internet.

The SCG would insist on the introduction of a permit requirement for text message games, Dnevnik daily said.

In 2006 taxes paid by organisers of gambling games amounted to 72 million leva. No final data for 2007 was available. Income from fees and fines amounted to 4.1 million leva in 2006 and to 4.2 million leva in 2007, Dnevnik daily said.

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