Armenia Protestors Challenge Parliament Effort to Enact Big Gambling Restrictions

Posted on: June 2, 2019, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: May 31, 2019, 11:32h.

Armenia’s parliament is considering legislation that could further restrict gaming establishments in the Eastern European nation.

Armenia gambling laws parliament protest
Protestors petitioned the Armenia parliament to forego enforcing stricter gambling laws. (Image: The Armenian Weekly)

The legislation, introduced last October, is the latest in a series of efforts by Armenian politicians to crackdown on betting parlors and casino gaming venues across the country. Policymakers have been trying to limit gambling activities for two decades, but the industry is a major employer Armenia, a country grappling with high levels of poverty.

Earlier this week, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city, many of whom are staffers at Goodwin Bet LLC, an operator of local wagering parlors. The protesters believe thousands of Armenians could be left jobless if the government pursues more restrictions on gambling.

Legislation Objective

The bill being considered by Armenia’s parliament would not ban wagering until 2020 and is aimed at clamping down on brick-and-mortar establishments, such as those operated by Goodwin Bet, that are run as bookmaking shops.

Proponents of the bill argue that many Armenians that are struggling financially simply cash their paychecks and head to the nearest betting property. They also claim gambling addiction is on the rise and is responsible for the country’s increasing rate of suicide.

The legislation would ban all physical casinos and betting establishments across the country. Armenia has a handful of traditional casinos, including the Casino Shangri La in Yerevan and Casino Senator Golden Palace. Assuming the proposed bill is signed into law, it would also lead to the removal of electronic gaming and slot machines, which are found at establishments such as gas stations.

Those opposing the legislation argue that Armenia has already made strides in terms of regulating the industry, including higher license taxes on operators and a recent move to boost the minimum gambling in the country to 21 from 18.

Additionally, opponents of the bill claim policymakers are not targeting the right type of establishments. Armenia is home to a robust online betting industry, one monopolized by a company known as BetConstruct. BetConstruct, which, under another name, originally operated betting parlors similar to those run by Goodwin Bet, is now Armenia’s largest technology company and one of the 10 largest providers of online wagering services in the world.

Critics also assert that brick-and-mortar gaming establishments are required by the government to check patrons’ identification to ensure guests are of age to enter the venue, but that online wagering portals, including those operated by BetConstruct, have no way of verifying the age of their players.

Sordid History

Like some other countries in the region, Armenia has some dark chapters associated with gambling. Nestled in the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia, Armenia is a former Soviet Republic and some gaming properties there previously served as avenues for organized crime syndicates in Eastern Europe to launder money.

Other countries in the area, such as Albania and Kosovo, have banned casino gaming in effort to reduce crime and usher out crime rings.

Members of an Armenian organized crime outfit are believed to be involved in a match-fixing scheme that targeted games in La Liga, Spain’s premier football league.