Almost one year on: will kosovo think again on gambling?

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Although what happened in Kosovo last March still feels like a recent memory, it’s actually been almost a year since the country banned all gambling activities going on within its borders. It was a sudden and shocking move - and is thought to have put many people in the country out of a job - but it was seen as one that was justified considering the attacks on casino workers that justified the move. The logic and reasoning applied at the time seemed to be that if some Kosovan adults couldn’t be trusted to behave in a civilized manner while gambling, nobody would be allowed to gamble at all.

When the ban was first implemented, it was announced that it would stay in place for exactly ten years - a length of time that some people both inside and outside the country believed to be both arbitrary and unjustified. The Kosovan government clearly wanted to send a message and show that they understood the gravity of the problem, but in doing so they denied responsible gamblers within the country the opportunity to indulge in their hobby, and they also denied themselves access to the tax money that comes with a properly regulated gambling industry. Today, it can’t be said that no gambling at all happens in Kosovo - it’s just that all the gambling happens illegally, and the government isn’t taking a cut of it.

Illegal gambling happening inside Kosovo is bad for the economy in one way because it denies the government its share of tax, but it can at least be said that the profits from illegal gambling are still spent inside Kosovo. The same isn't true about the money that Kosovo is losing to online slots websites. Although it's illegal to own or operate online slots websites from within Kosovo, that doesn't mean that Kosovans cannot gain access to them. Several of Europe's largest online slots websites like UKOnlineSlots.com allow Kosovans to join up as members. The money that those Kosovans then spend on those websites then leaves the Kosovan economy completely, and unless the players go on to have a big win, it never comes back again. That's a net financial loss to the nation.

There are some signs that the Kosovan authorities never got the issue of illegal gambling under control even when legal casinos operated within the country. According to some respected sources, the total amount in revenue that Kosovo was making from gambling in a twelve-month period was barely over twenty million Euros - less than some European nations make from gambling in a single month, and generally believed to be far too low a proportion of what Kosovans were actually spending on gambling during that same period. Based on the numbers, it would seem that several of the casinos that were supposed to be authorized and regulated simply weren’t observing the regulations, and either misreported their finances or didn’t report any figures at all. Presuming the figures are accurate, it would have made the decision to ban gambling completely a lot easier. There was hardly any money to be made anyway, and Albania had just done the same thing and reported a decrease in organized crime.

In the year since the unfortunate incidents, people have had time to calm down and think about the situation again, and the world of gambling has been continuing unabated in the meantime. The size of the global gambling industry in early 2020 is even larger than it was in early 2019, and there are still huge financial opportunities there for countries and regions who want to take advantage of them. Croatia has recently begun opening itself up to online gambling and has announced a raft of new regulations to assist it with that task. It will be interesting to see what economic benefits - if any - Croatia experiences as a result of that decision.

Perhaps the Croatian model could be Kosovo’s future. While there are still people alive who were affected by what happened last year - and people in government who made the rulings that came as a result of those incidents - it’s hard to imagine the ban being completely overturned. The legal casinos which shut down because of the incidents will likely stay closed, and they may even stay closed for the next nine years to come. That doesn’t, however, mean that the online market should be ignored. In fact, a very strong case could be made that access to online gambling facilities could and should be restored to Kosovans immediately.

As we pointed out earlier, there are already Kosovan players registered at European online slots and casino websites. That means that there's already a market and that the hobby is carrying on regardless. There's no reason why Kosovo should deny itself access to the taxable revenue that could come from allowing online casinos and online slots websites to operate within the country. This could be done without sullying the memory of those who passed away in last year's tragedies. Nobody can burst into an online casino and attack someone who works there, though. Online casinos are safe, and so are the people who work on them. Jobs could be created for Kosovans at Kosovan-owned online casino companies, and the hobby could be made legal again with the proper protections in place. This time, with more intelligent oversight and regulation, the country could surely make far more than twenty million Euros a year from it.

The reality of the situation is that the ban was never total anyway. The state-controlled lottery has continued to operate, and so the government clearly hasn't closed the door to gambling in Kosovo completely. A relaxation of the laws where they relate to online gambling would, to us at least, seem like a sensible compromise. The spirit of the ban that was introduced last year would remain in place, but there would be a new way for those who enjoy engaging in gambling as a fun hobby to go about their business without fear of persecution from the state. Crucially, it's a lot harder to run an illegal online gambling website than it is to run an illegal gambling location in the flesh.

There was wisdom in introducing the ban. The whole country needed the opportunity to step back and think about what had just happened. Now, a year later, there would also be wisdom in coming to take a second look at it.