Finance committee okays, tweaks changes to gaming act

Ljubljana – The Finance Committee okayed on Thursday changes to the gaming act that introduce partial liberalisation of the field and allow for multiple organisers of classic games of chance. The MPs added an amendment under which a possible shortfall in funding of humanitarian and sport organisations would be covered from the state budget.

The changes would create a legal framework to enable granting concessions for the ongoing operation of classic and special games of chance based on a public tender.

While currently only two companies have concession for operating classic games of chance – Loterija Slovenije and Športna Loterija, now the number could increase to five if the changes are endorsed by the National Assembly.

While in line with the existing act, the government has so far freely decided on granting and extending concessions, under the changes it would grant concessions for operating classic and special games of chance based on public tenders to be published three times a year.

The changes also eliminate the requirement that a company wanting to obtain a concession for operating special games of chance must be seated in Slovenia, which transposes EU legislation.

For concessioners that operate special games of chance in casinos, most restrictions regarding the ownership would be lifted.

As the parliamentary committee discussed the government-proposed changes last December, Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj said they would ensure greater consumer protection as well as greater security and stability of providers of games of chance.

Marko Pogačnik of the ruling Democrats (SDS) was of the same opinion today, saying the changes brought greater security for players and better regulation, as well as more revenue for the state and humanitarian organisations through concession fees.

The opposition meanwhile wanted to postpone the vote and organise a public presentation of opinions on the proposed changes. “Legislation works, so why should it be changed two months ahead of the election,” Matjaž Han of the Social Democrats (SD) asked.

His party colleague Matjaž Nemec described the changes as inconsistent and harmful, while Jože Lenart of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) said that two providers of classic games of chance were enough for a country with a population of two million.

Luka Mesec of the Left believes that the only goal of the changes is to open the Slovenian gaming market to the competition from abroad, noting that online betting providers wanted to enter the Slovenian market.

While Robert Polnar of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) said the changes would boost competition in the market, Marko Bandelli of the opposition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) said “organised crime would spread even more, and addiction would increase.”

Coalition lawmakers proposed that the statutory minimum concession fee for classic games of chance be increased from 5%, as the government proposed in the changes, to 25%. Currently, this rate is not set, ranging from 25% to 45%.

The Finance Committee endorsed the amendment and, consequently, also the legal basis for the possible shortfall in funding of the Sports Foundation and the Disability and Humanitarian Foundation to be compensated from the state budget.

Lenart expressed opposition to this, saying that “taxpayers will not cover for this burden”. He added that the coalition had actually acknowledged that the two foundations would be eligible for less funding under the new regulation.

“This is a fiasco, you confirm that the law is harmful,” he said, while Pogačnik said that it was about additional protection for humanitarian, disability and sports organisations.

The opposition did not manage to strike out some of articles it deemed harmful, including elimination of a majority of restrictions related to ownership.

Nemec said this meant separation of the tourism and gaming arms of the Nova Gorica-based company HIT and the sale of the latter part.

“Your goal is to reduce the price of HIT and sell it to the provider selected in advance, who will bring gaming down to the level of gambling salons,” he added.