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Latvia – Operators contest gambling suspension in court

By - 18 May 2020

The Constitutional Court of Latvia has initiated two legal cases from operators challenging the country’s suspension of all gambling licenses. Online gambling was banned in Latvia in April, after clarification was issued on the country’s emergency coronavirus bill.

The bill called for the closure of all land-based venues but initially left the status of online gambling unclear. It called for a prohibition on gambling and lotteries “except for interactive gambling, numerical lotteries and instant lotteries”.

However, on 8 May, the First Chamber of the Constitutional Court of Latvia initiated a case from Optibet operator Enlabs, which the court said had been “deprived of the right to conduct commercial activities – to organise gambling in an interactive environment – and to earn income from it.”

The operator said the emergency bill violated Article 105 of the Satversme (Constitution) of the Republic of Latvia, which deals with property rights.

“Everyone has the right to own property,” Article 105 states. “Property may not be used against the public interest. Property rights may be restricted only in accordance with the law. Compulsory expropriation of property for the needs of the public shall be permitted only in exceptional cases on the basis of a separate law against fair compensation.”

Enlabs said the right to property in the Satversme included the right to conduct business. The operator added that the restriction of its ability to conduct business was “disproportionate to its legitimate aim to deter the society from wasting expenditures.” In addition, Enlabs said the bill violated Article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

Four days later, a second challenge was initiated by Alfor Group. Alfor objected to the suspension based on Article 105 of the Satversme, as well as the opening Article, which declares Latvia an independent democratic republic and Article 91, which says that “all people in Latvia are equal before the law and the court.”

The Saeima of the Republic of Latvia has been invited to submit a reply to Enlabs’s case by 8 July and Alfor’s by 12 July.

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