June 14, 2020 / 1:07 PM / 2 months ago

Bulgarian sports clubs protest against plans to shut casinos

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian sports clubs said that government plans to shut around 600 casinos nationwide as part of a clampdown on gambling threatened their survival and called for a rethink.

Bookmakers are major sponsors of Bulgarian soccer champions Ludogorets, Cup holders Lokomotiv Plovdiv as well as lower division clubs, volleyball and basketball teams and competitions. Twelve of the country’s 14 top soccer teams bear the names of gambling companies on their shirts.

Earlier this month a junior coalition partner in Bulgaria’s centre-right government, the nationalist NFSB, submitted a bill to parliament which would ban all casinos except at five-star hotels in about 10 holiday resorts.

Under the plan nearly 600 casinos and other betting venues would be closed by 2025 as part of efforts to tackle corruption and curb gambling among young people.

“The changes threaten the existence of many clubs,” Ludogorets said in a statement on Sunday, which followed similar declarations by many sports clubs.

Most clubs face considerable infrastructure difficulties and are struggling to meet financial conditions set by European soccer’s governing body UEFA. The situation has recently worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bulgarian basketball federation said on Sunday the gambling law changes would “inflict an extremely heavy blow” to Bulgarian sport.

The Bulgarian Gambling Association said any changes should be subject to a broad discussion and assessed for their possible impact on industry and the state budget.

Experts say the plans will lead to 30,000 job losses and negative consequences for the state budget.

NFSB party leader Valeri Simeonov described the plans as a “ second step against the pandemic of gambling addiction” following an earlier ban on private lotteries.

“I hope we will do a good job in the interests of Bulgarian society,” Simeonov said.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones

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