As an Iron Curtain country, Bulgaria became open to the cultures and lifestyles of the West with the fall of Eastern Bloc communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989. That meant previously restricted access to sports and other activities became a thing of the past.
Almost immediately in 1990, the first private Bulgarian sportsbook was established and named “Еврофутбол,” or Eurofootball, reflecting the great interest of Bulgarian residents for Europe’s favourite sport. The bookmaker operated without a license until it was formally authorised by the Bulgarian government in 1993. Thereafter, its growth was explosive, and it today manages over 800 betting shops and kiosks throughout the country.
Seeing the great success of Eurofootball, the central government decided to create its own national sportsbook called “спорт тото” or Sports Totalizator. It combines the functions of a traditional sportsbook with those of a national lottery. Fully half of all proceeds go directly to Bulgarian sports organizations, while the tax contribution is 35% and 15% remains to cover operating costs and profits.
In 2008, a law was passed which legalised sports wagering via the Internet. However, to date the only company licensed to conduct online bookmaking operations within Bulgaria is the Sports Totalizator, effectively making it a state-run monopoly. Eurofootball has been granted permission to display sports betting information, but the actual wagers must be placed at an authorised kiosk or betting shop in person.
The lack of competition domestically has in no way inhibited offshore bookmakers from taking advantage of betting enthusiasm among the Bulgarian public. CasinoCity estimates that some 336 English-language sports betting sites currently accept play from Bulgaria, supplemented by another 17 sites that are offered exclusively in the Bulgarian language. The latter group includes those operated by unibet, ladbrokes, bet365 and the bwin Racebook & Sportsbook.
The Euro is the primary currency used at Bulgaria-facing sportsbooks. Visa credit for Bulgarian cardholders is accepted by some 1,829 gaming web sites, of which 68 offer Bulgarian language support. MasterCard has 1,740 affiliated venues, with 68 offering support in Bulgarian. Many eWallets, including NETeller and Moneybookers, also welcome transactions from customers based in Bulgaria.
It is no secret that the Bulgaria government has been unable to create a realistic set of laws to govern online gambling. Statutes proposed to give a competitive advantage to local firms have run afoul of the policies of the European Union (EU), of which Bulgaria has been a member since January 2007.
One aspect of a law proposed in 2011 is to ban all forms of advertising for online casinos in Bulgaria. Another section of the proposed law would require online gaming license applicants to have a minimum of five years of gambling experience within Bulgaria. Harsh penalties for illegal gambling operations are also part of the legislation.
Ironically, strict regulations have resulted in the creation of a network of illegal casinos and bookmakers in Bulgaria, under the control of such infamous underworld figures as Mufta the Jew and Loshka One Ear. Law enforcement’s efforts to put an end to illegal sports betting have so far met with abject failure.
This failure is at least partly due to holes in the Penal Code which encourage unscrupulous behaviour. For example, influencing the outcome of a sporting match is not a crime. In May 2011, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Boris Velchev told reporters: “If fixing a sports game could be linked with fraud or money laundering then we will prosecute under those charges, but match fixing itself is not a crime in Bulgaria.”