Locked Out: Portugal to Become Latest Nation to Restrict Online Gambling During COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic
As we previously reported, many countries around the world are taking steps to prevent problem gambling during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With over 2 million people now infected and up to a third of the world’s entire population under some form of home lockdown measures, casinos and gambling stores have been shuttered from Macau to Vegas, the UK, and beyond.
This has led to a rise in online gambling in many regions. However, governments are now widely deliberating over how much of this is healthy entertainment and how much is isolation-related desperation due to people not faring well under mental stress.
The latest government to pass a bill limiting online gambling activity for the duration of the pandemic is Portugal. Last week, the Iberian country passed Bill 326 that will introduce an (as of yet) unspecific range of “partial or total limitations on access to online gambling platforms.”
The legislation was brought to parliament by the left-wing environmentalist party Partido das Pessoas, dos Animais e da Natureza. It was passed with the support of just over half the chamber, and detailed plans are undoubtedly being drawn up now before they come into effect later this month.
Unlimited and Uncontrolled
Representatives who supported the bill were concerned that “unlimited and uncontrolled access to online gaming” could prove dangerous to some people during the lockdown—especially combined with economic pressure.
Portugal’s online gambling operators had posted bumper revenues in 2019, a growth trend that was expected to continue into 2020—before the arrival of the COVID-19 respiratory virus, which has killed over 20,000 people in neighboring Spain.
The 12 licensed operators in Portugal made €65.4 million in profit between them and paid over €20 million in tax in 2019, and revenue has even grown 24% further since March 1st.
This boost has been echoed in many countries around the world, which have reported a short-term rise in online gambling activity since the global onset of the pandemic in early March. However, there’s no telling how long this will last during the expected economic fallout of extended lockdown measures.
Other countries around Europe have already taken similar measures, and their actions may offer some insight into the likely steps Portugal’s lawmakers will enact later in April.
For example, Latvia pushed through a complete ban on online gambling a few weeks ago in a move widely panned by operators and industry figures. The ban has been called incompatible with EU law and is now being challenged in the country’s highest courts.
Meanwhile, Belgium and Sweden have heavily restricted advertising and maximum deposits, and Dutch regulators have fined affiliates for using the pandemic in their marketing materials.
Lithuania became the latest country to restrict gambling advertising last week, with its gambling authority stating that “advertising is one of the stimulating factors for people with gambling problems.”
Similarly, the Betting and Gaming Council in the UK recognizes the problems associated with compulsive gambling but falls short of calling for any kind of comprehensive ban.
Casinos to the People
Despite the personal tragedies unfolding around the world, it isn’t doom and gloom for the gambling industry everywhere.
Many of the richest casino operators—both online and offline—from around the world have been contributing vast sums to the effort to fight the virus.
For example, one can look at the world’s wealthiest casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The Las Vegas Sands owner donated millions of dollars to food banks and tens of thousands of pieces of PPE equipment to the people in his home state of Nevada.
Other large casino owners have pledged to keep their furloughed employees paid during the crisis, in addition to donating millions to local and international humanitarian efforts.
In Colombia, it seems that the government has recognized the value of gambling as entertainment during these tough times. Regulators there passed new laws giving online operators the long-awaited permission to add live casino games to their selections, as well as cutting their license fees for the next three months by 50%.