Online casinos in Bulgaria have been licensed to some degree or another since 2008. The initial rollout of pro-online gambling legislation was rocky, but amendments to the law since then have significantly smoothed things over. Today’s Bulgarian casino sites are well-regulated and completely legal.
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Bulgarian lawmakers deserve some credit for their willingness to scrap previous laws that simply did not work to give gamblers a decent selection of options. Amendments to the Gambling Act have made Bulgaria a nation that strikes the right balance between regulation and a competitive free market.
About a dozen Bulgarian online casinos have been licensed to date and more are expected to receive legal status in the near the future. The current list of licensed operators consists of a combination of local operators and international gambling sites. It is our opinion that big name international operators are the best due to having experience competing on the world stage.
Bulgarian Gambling Law
The Gambling Act of 2012 and subsequent amendments provide the legal foundation for online gambling in Bulgaria today. Lawmakers began the process of legalizing online casinos in 2008, but it wasn’t until 2012 that actual regulations were put forth and implemented by the Gambling Act.
Originally, the Gambling Act was unfavourable to a functioning online gambling market due to excessive taxation. The original Gambling Act called for a 15% tax on total betting turnover. That is, the government wanted 15% of every bet placed online regardless of operators’ actual net revenues.
The tax regime made it nearly impossible for licensed online casinos in Bulgaria to survive, let alone profit. As a result, most major international operators chose not to pursue a license. Some gambling websites wrote off the Bulgarian market entirely and stopped accepting customers from Bulgaria. Others decided to skip the licensing process but continue to accept Bulgarians despite lacking the proper licensing to do so.
Initially, Bulgarian lawmakers attempted to control the issue through sheer brute force. The government created a blacklist of websites that were found to be operating in Bulgaria without a proper gambling license. Internet service providers were ordered to block access to all unlicensed casino websites doing business without a license.
The blacklist quickly ballooned to eventually include more than 300 sites considered prohibited. Bulgaria’s internet censorship campaign made life difficult for international websites interested in the market, but it did little to convince the industry that a Bulgarian license was worth the trouble and expense. The 15% tax on turnover was simply too much for most online casinos to bear.
With their efforts to tame the offshore industry unsuccessful, Bulgarian lawmakers chose to amend the Gambling Act in order to make the market more attractive to would-be licensees. Amendments to the Act in 2014 created a new tax regime that did exactly that.
Most noteworthy of these amendments was the decision to scrap the 15% turnover tax and replace it with a 20% tax on gross gaming revenue. The new rules take taxes after expenses are accounted for and is now affordable for operators.
With the tax situation under control, Bulgaria is now one of the better licensing jurisdictions for gambling operators. Gambling sites are not forced to establish a brick-and-mortar presence in Bulgaria as long as they have base of operations in any other EU/EEA nation or Switzerland.
Eleven online gambling sites are now licensed to operate in Bulgaria. The Sate Commission on Gambling publishes a list of licensed online casinos here. If you ever question whether or not a gambling website is authorized to do business in Bulgaria, you can check that page to see which sites hold active licenses.
The updated Gambling Act also includes strict advertising standards for licensed online casinos and severe limitations on unlicensed operators. Licensed casinos do have the ability to advertise in Bulgarian media, but all advertisements must adhere to three key standards:
As far as “decency” goes, the state expects gambling advertising campaigns to do nothing that encourages problem gambling, that caters to those who may have gambling problems or that target underage gamblers. In short, the government expects gambling websites to avoid targeting vulnerable populations.
Honesty and truthfulness standards require operators to always advertise in a manner that is straightforward. Online casino advertisements cannot abuse the trust of consumers, take advantage of their lack of knowledge or use any sort of deception in their promotion. The law does not explicitly define what counts as deception or “abuse of trust,” but instead expects operators to use common sense. In this case, the intent of the law matters more than the letter of the law.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.