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Ukrainian Gambling on the Tight Rope

By: Robert Brassia founding principal of the gaming consulting firm “Sense4gaming

Everyone knows at least a bit about the rollercoaster drama that the Ukrainian gambling scene has been for the past 3 decades. Before the 2009 gaming ban, the country was a typical eastern European state as far as the gambling industry was concerned. Riddled with mafia presence and sometimes even violence. I very much remember receiving news of an old colleague of mine shot in the cash desk of a casino in Kiev. The government simply could not control it, so just like in Russia they decided to shut the whole industry down. A fire killing 9 people in the casino of the provincial Dnepropetrovsk city was used as an excuse for the move. Since then there has been a complete ban on all kinds of gambling in the country except to state licensed lotteries.

On paper that is. All over the country under the guise of selling lottery tickets as a subsidiary for the state lottery agency thousands of points of sales were offering slot games, online sports betting and other gambling activities while the government turned a blind eye. For ten years it was perfectly all right to gamble in the Ukraine despite a law in effect banning all gambling. This obviously can only be done with the open cooperation of government agencies that are supposed to uphold the law in effect. This is what you call state corruption.

When last year president Zelenskyi keeping his election promise on liberalizing the economy reinvigorated the idea of bringing back a regulated gambling industry into existence in his country, lots of heads were turned. There have been attempts at regulating the industry during the period of the ban, but all these died a very fast death as the status quo of running huge gambling operations without practically paying any taxes would have hurt some strong interests.

These very interests were still at force when parliament was unable to pass the gambling bill in December. As of now there are 6 different versions of the bill and this number is expected to increase in the near future as different lobby groups push for versions that favour their own interests. We have to give kudos to the president for taking a decisive move and shutting down the already illegal operations all over the country aiming at speeding up the law-making process.

To read full report please see page 21 to p22 Casino Life Issue 136 - click here