It could turn out that Albania’s plan to licence casinos in the capital of the nation was a mirage, or just another instance of political cronyism run amok.
Last week, in the heart of the capital, Tirana, the Albanian Gambling Supervisory Authority officially declared a tender for the right to run casinos in a designated area. Involved operators were told to ensure that by October 22 their submissions were accepted.
The notice is still posted on the website of the Authority, but local media outlet Exit announced Wednesday that Prime Minister Edi Rama denied that his government had any intention of reversing recent years’ anti-gambling policy. On Wednesday, Rama said there was no “reopening of gambling in Albania” and “no casino license.”
Rama attempted to explain that “a specific procedure has been created that is related to the expiration of the license of the only casino operating in Tirana.” This is a reference to Adria Entertainment (formerly known as Apex-al), which operates a gaming floor with about 240 slots and 20 gaming tables at Tirana’s Regency Hotel.
Exit previously announced that a new 10-year gaming licence had been granted by Adria in May, but local media outlet Pamfleti stated Wednesday that the Adria Regency licence was scheduled to expire on October 1 and that the government had declined a request to extend this licence by three months.
The Wednesday comment by Rama appears to indicate that the only one up for grabs is the Regency licence. Pamfleti, however, quoted Finance Minister Anila Denaj as suggesting last week that five additional casinos would be allowed in Tirana, and that the main casino licensee ‘s satellite operations would be successful.
The Grand Casino Tirana has been working out of the Maritim Hotel Plaza Tirana since August 1, further muddying the waters. The licence was officially given three months ago, without a public tender, allegedly because the owners of the Grand Casino are the Prime Minister and his brother, Olsi Rama.
Bottom line, the gambling market in Albania is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, then dumped at the border reading ‘stay away if you know what’s good for you’ under a massive sign.