SBC News Bulgaria proposes ad-ban, social tax and civic limits to gambling overhaul

Bulgaria proposes ad-ban, social tax and civic limits to gambling overhaul

At today’s emergency meeting held by the Budget and Finance Commission, attending MPs approved the latest amendments to Bulgaria’s Gambling Act. 

The proposals, which recently passed first reading, underwent a second reading led by the Chairman of the Commission, Yordan Tsonev from the centrist DPS party, who is the co-author of the proposed text together with Temenuzhka Petkova from the populist GERB party. 

SBC News Bulgaria proposes ad-ban, social tax and civic limits to gambling overhaul
Temenuzhka Petkova/National Assembly

The next stage is for the new text to be brought to the National Assembly for a final vote (Update: The law has been unanimously approved by MPs and will be enacted within three days on of its promulgation).

Amendments to the initial draft

Notable changes to the initial draft were made by the Commission, which was also accompanied by recommendations proposed by representatives from the Ministry of Finance

The 10,000 rule

The first change agreed upon by the MPs was to forbid gambling venues in areas with up to 10000 citizens. This number was 5000 In the initial draft put forward by Tsonev and Petkova. 

SBC News Bulgaria proposes ad-ban, social tax and civic limits to gambling overhaul
Dimo Drenchev/National Assembly

Dimo Drenchev from the nationalist Vazrazhdane party, asked the Ministry of Finance to provide more information on the number of venue closures and job losses that the restriction would lead to. 

Irena Hristova, Director of Tax Policy to the Ministry of Finance, responded that after consulting with the National Revenue Agency (NRA), the number of land-based gambling venues located in towns with under 10,000 inhabitants is currently 104. 

The NRA forms part of the Ministry of Finance and serves as the supervisory authority regulating Bulgaria’s gambling market. 

Hristova added that no information could be provided on the number of job losses as a result of the new proposals, and that a figure was subject to additional discussions with the Ministry of Labour and Social Politics

No changes have been made to the initial proposal in terms of gambling venues in tourist resorts and ‘populated areas’, which will be excluded from the 10000 citizens rule. 

However, a clause was added which defines the minimum distance of land-based gambling venues from places that host vulnerable groups, specifically children. 

The proposed distance included in the final vote will be 300 metres away from community centres, public libraries, student accommodations and children playgrounds. A recommendation was made to include nurseries as well, but was later turned down after Tsonev deemed it unnecessary as “children in nurseries still can’t read”. 

SBC News Bulgaria proposes ad-ban, social tax and civic limits to gambling overhaul
Budget and Finance Commission

Blanket ban on gambling ads put up for final vote

Gambling ads also became a subject of discussion. Licensed operators in the country are currently taking the self-initiative to add gambling harm warnings in their promotional messaging, a provision that is not applied via a specific law.

Today’s changes to the proposal include a mandatory 10% space across all gambling ads set aside for gambling harm messages, with the specific font and text being left to the advertising designers to decide on.

A further proposal from Tsonev is the ban of gambling ads across radio, TV, print and online publishing, which remained unchanged from the initial draft.

SBC News Bulgaria proposes ad-ban, social tax and civic limits to gambling overhaul
Yordan Tsonev/National Assembly

Yet tensions currently exist between the NRA and Bulgaria’s Electronic Media Council (EMC) specifically on the  issue of gambling advertising.  

While the monitoring of content across radio and TV is currently in control of the EMC, previous comments from its Director, Sonya Momchilova, revealed that the media regulator is finding it difficult to exercise control over gambling ads, and that it wants the NRA to take lead on that. 

No mention of the conflicts was made at today’s meeting, but Bulgarian law states that it is the EMC tasked with monitoring breaches of the media legislation, in which it must notify the NRA. 

In short, the full ban of gambling ads across TV and radio, as well as online and print publishing remains in the proposal ahead of the final vote. 

Advertising on sports equipment, and to an extent sponsorship deals with sports clubs, are subject to further discussions. Gambling ads on billboards and casino buildings are still allowed in the updated proposals.  

There is however room for potential changes, specifically relating to online promotions. This is due to Bulgaria’s capacity to only penalise entities registered in the country, which could pose trouble for the NRA in cases where the advert is coming from abroad. 

NOVA TV: Bill threatens media’s independence

As a side note, a number of media outlets have issued a statement regarding the ban of gambling ads. In a letter addressed to MPs, NOVA TV – one of the three biggest media market shareholders in the country – stated that the adoption of the bill “may seriously threaten the economic independence” of the media. 

Concerns further noted the potential drop in revenue from advertising may significantly affect the media and broadcasters  programming schedule and lead to “limiting viewers’ access to major sporting events”.

NOVA TV recently acquired the rights to broadcast the UEFA EURO 2024, and reminded that the total ban of gambling ads threatens the media’s purchasing powers to negotiate for such rights.

Vazrazhdane’s Drenchev, who was mentioned at the top of this article, previously stated that 50% of the revenue of media firms in Bulgaria comes from gambling advertisements – leading to a conflict of interest. 

SBC News Bulgaria proposes ad-ban, social tax and civic limits to gambling overhaul

Taxes reserved for social harms 

Going back to today’s Commission, the ‘social responsibility payment’ that each operator must annually make to the treasury is planned to depend on the type of gambling that is offered, which is as follows: 

  • BGN 100,000 (£43.7k) for providers of online gambling 
  • BGN 25,000 (£10.9k) for land-based casinos
  • BGN 10,000 (£4.4k) for all others

All of these funds will be directed to the Ministry of Healthcare for the treatment of gambling harm, which will be done by psychiatrists in specialised clinics. 

Tightening self-exclusion duties 

Moving further down the list, operators that allow people who are on the self-exclusion registry to gamble will be met with a series of sanctions and penalties. 

The proposals will see such operators being fined with BGN 5,000 for first violations, with BGN 20,000 for second violations, and licence cancellation if they reach a third violation. 

In terms of the self-exclusion registry, the updated proposals want players to be able to take themselves off the registry at least a month after they’ve signed to it.

The amendments further state that the registry will automatically enlist people on social support from the government, as well as those diagnosed with mental conditions.

And finally, to further reduce gambling harm rates, the Commission also approved a proposal that would see the mandatory implementation of online bets limit, as well as additional measures to limit the time spent on gambling websites and the maximum bet allowance after certain hours – a move that significantly resembles the current legislation in the UK.  

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