The past year has brought with it unprecedented challenges across all industry sectors, and the gambling industry has been no exception. However, the situation in Latvia has had a few extra twists and turns compared to that experienced in the rest of the world. Let’s take a look at the current state of play for Latvia’s small but growing online casino gaming sector.
The total shutdown
When the world ground to a halt in the early months of last year, the sight of land-based casinos closing their doors became a familiar one. Indeed, for many, it was those TV images of an eerily quiet Las Vegas, entirely closed for business, that really brought home the message that we were in the middle of something serious.
In general, what was bad news for the land-based casinos was a great opportunity for those in cyberspace, as the bored masses sat around at home looking to their smartphones to give them something to do. In Latvia, however, the situation was a little different, as the government suspended the licenses of online casinos as well as land-based ones on 06 April.
Many considered the move bewildering and illogical – after all, there is no health risk attached to playing online. It even led two operators to initiate legal proceedings against the government. Ultimately, the freeze was lifted after two months. The government never fully explained itself, but intimated that it sought to discourage the public from unwise spending in a time of uncertainty. No doubt that was part of the reason, but this also presented an opportunity for the Latvian government to finally flush out those unlicensed operators who were still courting Latvian players.
The licensing environment
Latvia has one of the more progressive governments as far as gambling is concerned. But as the foregoing implies, it takes licensing very seriously. There are still just seven operators licensed, plus the state-run lottery, and not all of these operate online gambling platforms. However, that is not to say there is a shortage of choice in Latvia. There are some who operate multiple brands.
Enlabs, for example, was the first public sector company to be granted a license. It owns Optibet, probably the best-known brand in Latvia, and it also recently launched Laimz. It is not the only operator to have different brands operating in the same market, and there is no shortage of Baltic review sites covering these newly launched Latvian online casinos, CasinoSenpai.lv being a prime example.
One thing is for sure, Latvia is a country where sticking to the rules is strongly recommended. Yes, anyone who really wants to can circumvent geo-blocks easily enough with a VPN. However, this sort of activity carries significant legal risks, and offenders face fines of up to €350 per infringement. Furthermore, banks are under an obligation to report any payments made from within Latvia to unlicensed gambling operators.
A growing market
Despite the drama of the past 12 months, and regulatory enforcement that is on the strict side compared to some markets, the online gambling sector is a Latvian success story. Virtual casino-goers are able to enjoy greater choice and the very latest technology thanks to plenty of investment from the licensed operators.
Those operators will continue to plough in the dollars while their customers do the same. Online gambling revenue from 2018 to 2019 grew by more than 100 percent, with online slots, blackjack and roulette attracting the most players. While that overall growth will have hit a slight bump in the road last year, it is anticipated that the upward ascent will continue into 2021.