Gambling dens flourish despite national ban; police blamed - Monday 27th of July 2009

Less than a month after lawmakers outlawed gambling, many casinos and gaming establishments have gone underground and reopened illegally.

Three weeks after a national ban on gambling came into effect, casinos and other gaming establishments are still operating across the country. Politicians and industry experts blame police for not enforcing the law.

“In the center of Kyiv, under the noses of the president and parliament, the law is not being observed,” said Oleksiy Kosarev, head of the Committee against Organized Crime and Corruption, a nongovernmental organization, at a press conference on July 14. “If it’s not being observed here, then what about in the regions?”

A source in the gambling industry told the Kyiv Post that regular customers of the Time Out casino in central Kyiv received a text message before the ban came into force saying that it would continue to operate. That proved to be the case when members of the NGO and TV camera crews burst into the casino on July 10 to find the 220 slot machines still beeping and flashing.

Kosarev said they waited for two hours before the police arrived. “The police don’t want to help us,” he said. The casino’s lawyer claimed that the law didn’t apply to them, as the company is registered in Cyprus.

The gambling ban came into force on June 26 after the president’s original veto was overridden by parliament. Breaking the law is punishable by hefty fines and confiscation of equipment.

Not that this has deterred some establishments. Many have closed down and hung “closed” signs in their windows. But others continue to work on the sly, using secret entrances as the lights are turned off on their facades.

Valeriy Pysarenko, a lawmaker who authored the law, said that if 70 percent of the businesses operated illegally before the ban, 10 percent of those establishments are still working. Pysarenko is part of the Bloc of [Prime Minister] Yulia Tymoshenko.

Kosarev listed a number of casinos still working that his NGO has raided, from Poltava to Odesa. “If you want to play, you can find a place open,” he said.

The gambling industry source said that one top casino had stayed open in central Kyiv with a secret entrance for high rollers.

“It was inevitable that the business would move underground,” said Ian Payne, former director of operations at the River Palace casino, who has worked in the business for 20 years.

“And it is only logical that illegal gambling establishments will come under pressure from criminal groups, but they won’t be able to go to the police. The customer, the owners and the workers will all be vulnerable,” he said.

Payne added that he was surprised how quickly some places had reopened. It shows, he said, that they are “just not bothered” by the law.

Tymoshenko, whose party was the driving force behind the legislation, admitted this week that enforcing the law was proving “tough.”

“It’s one thing to pass a government resolution, a law, and another thing to actually close down the slot machines, because now they’ve changed their signs, and behind the new signs the same casinos are continuing to work,” she told reporters on July 13.

Pysarenko blamed the police for failing to enforce the law. “We don’t see the strict measures from the tax inspectorate and the Interior Ministry that could lead to the handing out and payment of fines. The police and tax inspectors have proved unwilling to fight [the problem].”

He said he sent a letter to Interior Minsiter Yuriy Lutsenko last week asking that a procedure be established for police to close down establishments. He called for regional police chiefs to be fired if casinos were found to be working in their regions.

The police, however, report that they are already hard at work. According to a statement by the main tax police department of the state tax administration, 155 cases of illegal gambling had been registered and equipment worth Hr 27.2 million confiscated.

According to the statement, 500 mobile groups comprising 1,500 officers are working night and day to check for compliance with the law.

Tymoshenko has also opened another front in the war on gambling, announcing that a hotline is open for members of the public to call in any establishment they see operating. The number is: 8-800-507-3090.

Perhaps they can keep a look out for fugitive ex-lawmaker Victor Lozinsky, a suspect in a June 16 murder in Kirovhrad Oblast, at the same time.

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