Albanians spent more than 100 million dollars on gambling last year, an increase of almost 70 percent on the year in one of Europe's poorest countries, the tax office said Thursday.
"During 2008, Albanians spent more than 100 million dollars on gambling, including sports betting," compared with 60 million in 2007, the Tax office said in a report.
Lottery, sports betting and casinos are privately run in Albania.
"For several years, the income from gambling and other betting activities has recorded a rather considerable increase," said Redian Kristo of the office that controls gambling.
The government body, a part of the Finance Ministry, was founded recently to monitor the gaming sector, which is suspected of abuse by money launderers.
Albanian authorities estimate that in January alone, money spent on gambling had risen by 30 percent compared with the same month in 2008.
The Balkan country has one casino, more than 20 bookmakers, 22 companies that organise gambling games and nine offering lottery tickets. Thousands of betting shops are scattered across the country.
A gambling law, in force since January, bans people under 18 from entering betting shops, but teenagers are often seen there, according to non-governmental organisations.
Media often report on poor people who commit suicide after failing to pay off gambling debts.