Lafka Retail Chain Forced To Close After Bulgaria’s Gambling Law Changes

Changes in gambling law in Bulgaria have caused a major local retailer to cease its operations because of the loss of private lottery revenues.

Last Friday, the Blugaria State Gambling Commission  (BGC) issued a statement announcing the formal imposition of the new laws of the country restricting lottery operations to those run by the Bulgarian Sports Totalizator. Other lotteries were ordered to “cease the distribution and sale of tickets, coupons, cards or other tokens” related to private lottery operators and, in the presence of BGC staff, destroy all unsold tickets by the end of the year.

Bulgarian kiosk chain operator Lafka Market, which boasting around 1,100 retail locations across the country, announced on Monday that it will shut down its operations, Lafka said it generated revenue of BGN240 m (US$ 133.2 m) in 2018 but much of that revenue was obtained through sales of products issued by the privately-run National Lottery and Lottery Bulgaria, both controlled by the now fugitive Vasil Bozhkov.

Bozhkov, who also operated several famous betting firms in addition to running the country’s two largest lotteries, was arrested in January on allegations including extortion and bribery. Bozhkov denied the accusations but was recently taken into custody in the United Arab Emirates and is awaiting Bulgaria’s extradition.

Reuters last week reported that Bohzkov had been released from custody but his passport had been confiscated by the UAE authorities and he was barred from leaving. The UAE has no extradition treaty with Bulgaria but Bulgarian authorities have recently sent more than 200 documents supporting their extradition request to their UAE counterparts.

Bulgarian authorities are making efforts to confiscate Bozhkov’s trove of historical antiques displayed in a Bulgarian museum run by the Thrace Foundation of Bozhkov. Bulgarian authorities are reportedly intent on recovering some of the millions in unpaid taxes that the state owes to Bozhkov’s gambling operations. They have also tried to exert pressure on Bozhkov by seeking his wife’s arrest.

The indictment of Bozhkov was followed by accusations of organised crime brought against both the current and former chairmen of the Gambling Commission and the supervisory department head of the Commission.

Bulgaria might have limited its lottery operations to the state but the country has made no move to revoke the licences it issued to several private online gambling operators, including familiar Western brands such as Bet365, Betfair, Bwin and PokerStars.