Vassil Bozhkov, who owns the largest lottery private operation in the country gave his first interview in over a decade to Svobodna Evropa. The unusual move is coinciding with MP Valeri Simeonov introducing a bill to Parliament to ban private actors to operate lottery businesses. Bozhkov argues that what the bill entails is unconstitutional and said he will sue the country if the bill gets enacted into law.
Meanwhile, just hours after the interview was published, prosecutors and police raided the offices of the State Gambling Commission. The Minister of Interior did not give details as to why (except stressing the operation is led by the Prosecutor’s Office). It is likely though, that the raid is in connection to information about 250 million leva worth of unpaid fees by Bozhkov’s lottery companies to the state over the past five years.
Simeonov, who is one of the leaders of GERB’s coalition partner and former vice-PM, has targeted the National Lottery before but without success. In 2018 he introduced a bill which targeted lottery advertising and limited the places where lottery tickets could be sold to exclusive locations. Bozhkov’s lottery games top the annual list of the largest advertisers in TV and print media every year. Although the law bans direct advertisement of gambling products, the games bypass the law thanks to a loophole. Simeonov’s previous bill had gotten verbal support both from the largest opposition, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and GERB but the votes fell through during the first reading.
In the new bill Simeonov targets the activity altogether and seeks to ban private actors to operate lottery businesses at all. Simeonov claims to have the support of GERB for the bill. BSP said the bill is nothing more than settling scores between gambling bosses and they would take no part in it.
Bozhkov implied in the interview that Simeonov is a tool to push formally the bill but GERB is behind it.
EPP MP and member of the non-parliamentary liberal opposition Democratic Bulgaria, Radan Kanev, commented that the bill aims not to put order into the lottery business so much as to shift the power balance in the sector. Which makes Parliament a player in the mafia’s fight for control of the gambling business. Kanev predicts that the attempt to nationalize the lottery will ultimately hand over the business to media mogul and notorious MP Delyan Peevski. Peevski’s mother Irena Krasteva headed the national lottery before the two built their media empire.
Kanev points out that the bill does not address the question of advertising, nor distribution, which are the most problematic aspects of the business. This way, he argues, another prominent Bulgarian business duo – who recently acquired the second-largest TV network in Bulgaria, NOVA TV – the brothers Domuschiev will continue to profit off lottery ads. Bozhkov’s lottery games are responsible for NOVA TV’s largest advertisement revenues. In his interview with Svobodna Evropa Bozhkov implied his ads are a crucial part of the media’s well-being.
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