The National Assembly voted unanimously on Wednesday to raise the minimum gambling age in Armenia and introduce much heavier fines for casinos and bookmakers failing to enforce it.
A bill approved by the Armenian parliament in the first reading raised it from 18 to 21 years for individuals who can place bets on sporting games and buy lotteries. The age limit for people allowed to gamble in casinos will remain unchanged at 21 years.
Samvel Farmanian, a pro-government lawmaker who drafted the bill, argued during a parliament debate on Tuesday that Armenians aged 20 and younger typically do not work and are thus unable to support themselves financially. They must therefore be banned from any type of gambling, he said.
The bill also stipulates that private firms organizing gambling, sports betting and lotteries must be fined 2 million drams ($4,130) for a first violation of the minimum age. They will be fined 5 million and 10 million drams in case of second and third violations detected by relevant authorities within a year. They will have their licenses suspended or scrapped altogether if they are found to breach the rule for a fourth time.
The dramatic toughening of the fines, which were previously set at 100,000 to 200,000 drams, will affect a dozen casino operators, betting agencies and lottery firms operating in the country. Armenian law has until now not required them to check the age of their young clients.
Another bill, which was drafted by the opposition Yelk alliance and also approved by lawmakers, will make age verification checks mandatory for the gambling firms.
Naira Zohrabian, a parliament deputy from the Tsarukian Bloc, complained during the debate that these measures will not affect electronic gambling machines placed on the streets of Yerevan and other parts of the country. She said children as young as 12 can easily use them.
Deputy Finance Minister Karen Tamazian assured Zohrabian that the Armenian government will soon propose legal amendments that would curb the use of the high-stakes machines.
The authorities already imposed major restrictions on conventional gambling in Armenia five years ago. They largely banned casinos and other gambling sites from operating anywhere except Armenia’s three most popular resort towns.
Casino owners can do business in Yerevan and other parts of the country only if they invest at least $100 million in a particular property. The vast majority of Armenian casinos were located just outside Yerevan until 2013.