Betting in Latvia

Nestled between Estonia and Lithuania and bordering Russia and Belarus to the east, the Republic of Latvia is a Baltic State that gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Governed as a parliamentary democracy, the country joined NATO and the European Union in 2004. Currently its population is just over 2.2 million, the local currency is the Lats and the national language is Latvian.

The most enduring form of gambling activity in Latvia is the lottery known as Latvijas Loto. It was originally established in 1972 as a complement to Sojuzsportloto, the Soviet organised Sportloto. In 1993, the first purely Latvian 5/35 number lottery was inaugurated and three years later Latvijas Loto was reorganised as a state-owned joint stock company. An online lottery system was introduced with assistance from the Swedish company EssNet AB soon after.

In 2001, a new number lottery, KENO, was inaugurated. Currently, LATLOTO 5/35 drawings are held twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while KENO drawings are conducted daily except Sundays and national holidays. Tickets may be purchased at more than 1,400 outlets all over Latvia as well as online at the Latvijas Loto web site, which is presented in Latvian, Russian and the English language.

Sports betting also has a rather long history in Latvia. In the 1950s, the Hippodrome in the capital city of Riga was the country’s main venue for betting on horse races. However, when the facility burned down in 1965, sports gambling became illegal and remained so until independence in 1991.

Eight years later, Teletoto was awarded the only legal license to offer sports betting in Latvia. It established two brands, Optibet and Latbet, and together they now manage just over 20 betting shops, most of which are in Riga. The majority of wagers are on football matches, with basketball, ice hockey and handball also attracting considerable interest.

Casinos are a more recent addition to the Latvian gambling scene, but they have become immensely popular since the turn of the new millennium. Today, 32 of them can be found through the country. About two-thirds of those are located in Riga, and half of them are operated by the Olympic Entertainment Group under the Olympic Casino brand.

Casinos can also be found in Cesis, Daugavpils, Jelgava, Jurmala, Liepaja, Saldus, Sigulda, Valmiera and Ventspils. Some of these feature only a few slot machines, while others have both slots and standard table games, such as Roulette and Blackjack. More and more are beginning to offer Texas Hold’em tables, too, and a few now feature Omaha Poker.

In 2003, the Latvian Parliament known as “Saeima” began considering changes to the nation’s gambling laws, making them more restrictive. In a one year period, the number of so-called gambling machine halls reportedly rose from 218 to 441, most of them unlicensed. New regulations were drawn up to raise the tax on slot machines and make it illegal to place them in markets, shops, airports, bus depots and railway stations.

At the same time, Saeima addressed gambling on the Internet for the first time, making it legal under license and placing a 10% interactive gambling tax on all revenues generated by Latvia-based gaming web sites. Because Latvia was among the earliest European nations to legalise Internet gambling, the country has benefited greatly from interest in its dot-LV domains. What’s more, Riga quickly became the largest “live dealer” casino game broadcasting center in the world.

The very first live dealer casino studio in Latvia was created by a company called Evolution. They paired online gaming with live video feeds of real table games operated by actual dealers. Soon they were supplying their feeds to Blue Square, G Casino and Paddy Power. By 2009, Playtech followed suit and set up their own Latvian operations. Oddly enough, the live dealer studios are available only under license to offshore casinos, not to local operators.

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