On Friday last week, his party submitted a bill that would only allow gambling operations and casino-style gaming to take place at five-star hotels and resorts, which must be within two kilometres of the country’s borders.
As per the outlined plans, some 600 casinos will disappear, putting 30,000 people out of work. The Bulgarian Gambling Association (BGA) has cautioned lawmakers to tread carefully as the closures would deprive the state coffers from additional revenue sources.
In a recent scandal involving Vasil Bozhkov, Bulgaria’s richest man and casino mogul, the owners of Efbet claimed that they had been racketeered and threatened by Mr. Bozhkov. The latter then became a subject of investigation and is now in exile in the United Arab Emirates from where he has been releasing information about profound corruption on the highest level of government in the country.
With Mr Simeonov’s proposal coming, this is the second big hit that the country’s gambling industry has taken. Assuming the bill passes, closures should begin in 2021, targeting small gaming halls first. The BGA has also added that by closing swathes of businesses, the overall “competitive environment” in the country would deteriorate significantly.
Previously, in January, Simeonov introduced a bill that targeted private lotteries, leaving them with no room to operate and effectively suspending them. That gave the Sport Totalisator full control over the industry. There has been a proposal for the Ministry of Finances to control gambling in the country and even spearhead online gambling.
While Mr. Bozhkov has been in exile, he has released many accusations implicating officials from the ruling party in crimes and compliance. He alleged that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Minister of Finance Vladislav Goranov had racketeered him by asking for regular payments in cash amounting to $700 million over the years. The prosecutor’s office has not launched a formal investigation into the matter.
While Bulgarians don’t have many options to play legally online, there are several crypto websites that allow players to join and play freely. And should a land-based casino shutdown continue apace, it's likely the many of these players would look for alternative avenues online.
Similar stories have threatened land-based industries recently, with the EGBA coming out to say that any action must be evidence-based.