Gambling industry leader calls for COVID-19 restrictions easing

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Dawn over a central Tallinn casino. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Gambling lobbyists have called for an easing of coronavirus restrictions, citing significantly reduced takings. Since bricks-and-mortar casino income is subject to a gambling tax, the sector has been keen to point out that receipts from this have also fallen.

Tõnis Rüütel, chief of the Estonia Gambling Association (EHKL) says that those organizations which have up until now received support from proceeds from the gambling tax are likely to lose these funds.

Rüütel wrote to the Ministry of Finance, noting that almost 700 people in Estonia work in casinos and slot machine halls, with the easing of restrictions meaning fewer jobs would be threatened, as well as leading to a recovery of tax receipts.

From next week, casinos, which had been subject to full closure, will be allowed to open until 9 p.m., along with restaurants, bars and nightclubs, following an announcement Thursday evening that restrictions would be harmonized nationwide.

Harju County, along with Ida-Viru County, had for several weeks been subject to harsher coronavirus restrictions, issued in response to higher rates of COVID-19 in those areas. Harju County, which includes Tallinn, is the most populous region of Estonia and its entertainment hub as such.

Rüütel wrote that: "The sector paid a total of €14,229,273 in gambling tax to the state in 2019. Add to this, VAT (which the gambling sector does not have the option to reclaim), income tax and social tax."

While the figure for 2020 was not reported, the social affairs ministry, responsible for allocating funds from gambling tax receipts to various good causes, canceled application rounds for smaller projects as early on as the initial spring coronavirus wave.

The Red Cross was one of the organizations which had expressed its concerns to the EHKL, Rüütel went on.

"As long as companies in the sector are forced to keep their doors closed, tax revenues, including gambling tax revenues intended for financing such organizations, will decrease," Rüütel continued.

A solution might be to reopen casinos at or near their pre-pandemic working hours, Rüütel noted.

While casinos can work until 9 p.m. from next week, that means late-night gambling is still quite literally off the table.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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