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First things first, you have the opportunity to learn about the evolution of sports betting laws in Latvia before considering the state of affairs with online gambling. Then that is followed by tax and how international sites are dealing with Latvian players. Lastly, we shall look at what will become of the future sports betting in this country.

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Betting Since the 1950s

Latvia is one of the Baltic countries in Northern Europe bordering Russia and Estonia. The 21st of August, 1991 saw Latvia regain its independence following the disintegration of USSR. It joined European Union and discarded its national currency in favor of the Euro in 2014.

Nevertheless, in the 1950s Latvia managed to experience an era of live betting on horses at the Riga city. The Hippodrome was used for different purposes as it hosted among others, track and field games, football matches and motor racing until it got shut down because of various fires that broke out in 1965. It was not until the 1990s that sports betting was outlawed by this action.

Sports betting grew silently but steadily after the country gained independence even without any legal framework. The first laws passed to govern wagering in the country were done in 1994 and were in two parts captioned “On Lotteries and Gambling” and “On Lotteries and Gambling Tax and Duty” [1]. This legislation led to the growth of casino gaming and slots on one hand, while rendering sports betting as a less popular gaming industry that almost died out.

This transformation started happening during the latter part of the 90s when economic growth led to many people having more disposable income. Subsequently, this increased popularity enhanced casinos and slots as well as other forms of gambling were highlighted. There was an abrupt surge in interest in sports betting followed by a number of bookmakers opening up across Latvia.

Optibet and Latbet were the most outstanding bookmakers, as for instance SIA Teletoto which in 1998 won the monopoly for sports betting and later on online gambling that it still holds. The company is now known as a part of Nordic Bet AB [2].

Overview of Online Sports Betting in Latvia

In 2014, the government of Latvia is trying to have a grip on the Latvia online sports betting market through some groundbreaking reforms.

Online gambling has been regulated and legalized in Latvia since 2003. The first online betting company to be licensed was Optibet which opened in 2008 [3]. This resulted in sports bettors using sites regulated by other countries, such as William Hill and Unibet.

New rules on Internet gambling were enacted in 2006 and later amended in 2011 [4]. Among other things, the minimum age was raised to 21 and offshore operators would be blocked with penalties imposed on users of such sites.

The new laws also gave a new set of demands for licensing fees which were to be paid by companies seeking licenses. These laws came into effect in 2013 when Olybet became a licensed operator but no action was taken against any overseas operators immediately.

In January 2014, this changed when the Latvia Lotteries and Gambling Supervision Inspection published a black list of gambling websites it wanted ISPs to block.

The original document was published on the 1st of August, 2014. It contained twenty names of people who are involved in different forms of gambling and some of the most popular sports betting houses like Betway, 888.com and Bwin [5]. Later on in the month, twenty two other names appeared including Skybet. There were also laws that made it illegal to process payments for these blacklisted operators.

Flag of Latvia

Taxation for Latvian Sports Bettors Has Changed Over the Years

At present, there is no tax that Latvian players have to pay. Previously, licensed companies were liable to a 10% gambling revenue tax. To be precise, this was cut down to 5% as stipulated by the law of 2011 albeit with additional license charges.

The lack of any regulation or legal grounds to tax winnings earned via overseas platforms also means that all winnings there are tax-free.

Online Bookmakers for Latvian Customers to Become More Accessible After the Introduction of the Euro

Until August 2014, many Latvian clients have been served by numerous bookmakers and even now some of them offer their sites translated into Latvian language though the customer support in this language is a bit limited.

Now that Latvia has accepted Euro, it is presumed that you can use such credit cards as MasterCard or Visa and e-wallets like NETeller as well as Skrill. It is not clear for the time being whether blocking of transactions to international websites will be efficient and applicable solely to the forbidden ones; accordingly, a prepaid card or voucher payments might be more rewarding for you.

Olybet and Optibet are two locally licensed sites targeting Latvian customers. As a result, their website and customer service support is carried out in the local language. So users of these websites will not encounter any problems with payments and apart from the credit cards or debit; bank transfers can also be used to make payments.

Latvia fans in stadium

The Future Is a Little Hazy at the Moment

Writing this article in August 2014, as a result of which it is not yet known how the legislation will impact on the market with blacklists already issued. In any case, it may force sites to comply with regulations or create a big black or grey market together with only a few legal ones. Whatever the outcome, the real impacts will not be witnessed until either EU or operators make an attempt to test the implemented system.

Though, to be sure, ISP and transaction blocking appear effective, this has not been the case in other European countries. It has resulted from government’s slackness in implementing them and their contravention of EU laws since ISPs and banks have erroneously considered themselves within the law while they offer betting sites with services.

A single citizen may also find a way or two of avoiding this block, if they so wish—if the same regulations are in power.

References

[1]They are called the Novamedia Gaming and Lottery Files in Section 3.1 History.

[2] Nordic Leisure AB – News.Cision

[3] Optibet enters a regulated market through NYX Gaming Group.

[4] Overview of 2011 Legislation – Borenius

[5] Latvia Publishes Blacklist – Calvin Ayre

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