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During the communist period, gambling was outlawed, as it generally is in communist countries, but in 1992, around the time of the breakup of other communist regimes in the area, most notably the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of Albania was dissolved, communism was cast off, and they became simply the Republic of Albania. (1)
At this point we began to see gambling emerge in Albania, with lotteries and sports betting in particular. (2) Albania is a predominantly Muslim country, and Muslim countries tend to be more conservative toward gambling, but this isn’t the case in all Muslim countries, and while Albania may not be the most permissive country in Europe as far as gambling goes and is actually quite conservative by this standard, they still do have legal gambling here.
Albania even has casino gambling, although they do only have a single casino in the country, the Regency Casino in Tirana, which also offers live poker. In addition, poker players can also play at the King Poker Club, also in Tirana. (3)
So there is at least some live poker action here, although it is fairly limited. Poker hasn’t historically been a very popular game in Albania but its popularity is growing in recent years.
This has been particularly evident in the number of Albanians that have found online poker lately, and the penchant of Albanian residents towards online poker and online gambling in general has not found favor at all with the Albanian government, who has taken steps to restrict access of residents to online gambling in general.
Albania’s “War” On Online Gambling
The Albanian government has taken an active role toward limiting gambling since it was legalized back in the early 1990’s, and while they do have legal land-based gambling, it is tightly regulated, for instance not long ago they looked to crack down on illegal gambling machines and sent out 6000 police officers on a hunt for these machines, seizing those who weren’t properly licensed. (4)
There is also a concern in Albania that gambling has the potential to be abused, particularly by poorer residents, and Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe already. This is a country that actually has a lottery that awards not cash but a U.S. green card, allowing the winners to flee their country and relocate to the United States, and such lotteries are quite popular.
Some of this concern is directed toward land based gambling, for instance there are proposals to require casinos to be located outside cities and in tourist areas in particular, to allow the government to collect the tax revenue they seek but do so on the backs of non residents primarily, or those Albanians wealthy enough to travel to these areas, and not make access for the average Albanian so easy. (5)
With online poker and online gambling though, if access is as easy as simply being connected to the internet, that’s a whole different level of ease, so online gambling access has been a particular target of the Albanian government’s efforts to limit gambling access in their country.
So when current Prime Minister Edi Rama, of the Socialist Party, came into power in 2013, his party immediately sought to block access to online gambling sites in Albania, concerned about the flow of capital out of their country that this produces.
So this involved looking at the big picture more, likely concerned with overall national financial measures, where individual liberties such as the freedom to decide how to spend your own money gets set aside.
The Current State of Online Poker in Albania
At this point though, while the intention is there, it is still in the drafting stages and Albania hasn’t managed to do any real blocking yet, and Albanian players are still able to access online gambling sites as of now.
This is a pretty ambitious project in fact, and there are a lot of countries that seek to block online gambling sites, some more successfully than others, but even in the most successful of situations, such as in huge countries like Russia and China, this only serves to block the uninitiated, as players in the know simply use services that connect to the internet through proxies located in other countries, beyond the reach of their government.
There really isn’t a way a government can stop this short of shutting down internet service providers altogether, as if you can access the internet you can access proxy servers, and governments can’t block access to these since they are dynamic and set up to specifically avoid this.
So while Albanian online poker players may be concerned about the prospects of being blocked from playing their favorite game online, things are not as bad as they may initially seem with this, and while it’s certainly better to not have governments looking to restrict your internet freedom, due to the nature of the internet being a global community essentially, there are always options even if you live in a country where repression and restrictions of liberty are rampant.
Albania is far from a country like North Korea though, which is on the extreme end of things and only allow certain government officials free access to the internet, and Albania doesn’t even appear to be like China or Russia either in terms of how far that they seem prepared to go to block this.
With Albania, it seems at this point to be more of a political thing than anything, and the fact that we’re still waiting for this plan to be put into effect does speak to that. So the government looks like they are fighting this even though they haven’t really done that much, and they may at some point, but how effective it will be likely isn’t a huge concern as it might be in some other countries.
Albania is also a candidate for membership in the European Union, and the EU would not look very kindly on a member blocking access to gambling websites licensed in the EU, without at least having a suitable regulatory framework to allow European companies to fairly compete in the market, so this likely will give the Albanians some pause here as far as whether they’d be willing to enact and enforce such bans.
So for now anyway, Albanians can continue to enjoy online poker and playing at foreign based poker sites, and while they may face some inconveniences down the road, it probably won’t be all that bad.
(3) Albania Casinos