Government suggests legalizing gambling business in Kyrgyzstan

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BISHKEK (TCA) — The Ministry of Economy of Kyrgyzstan has proposed to allow casinos and slot machines in the country. The initiative was opposed by the public and some MPs.

Public discussions of the relevant draft law are now underway.

Speaking in the Parliament last month, Prime Minister Temir Sariyev explained that this is one of the measures to replenish the state budget during the economic crisis. “Of course we are not happy about having to open casinos but we are forced to do it,” he said.   

Despite the official ban, underground casinos and slot machine halls are still working in the country. Therefore, a bill has been drafted to withdraw them from the shadows, said Sariyev. Casinos will only work for foreigners, he added.

According to Sariyev, the initiative came from the business community. It is supposed to build hotels, entertainment and gaming centers to create jobs and improve the tourism potential of the country. Tourism can significantly replenish the state budget in the absence of gas and oil. Kyrgyz citizens will only work in casino, but not play, he added.

Economy Ministry initiative

The Economy Ministry has drafted a resolution according to which entertainment centers including casinos should be built in the country. The Government suggested legalizing gambling by establishing closed zones for casinos and bookmakers.

Kyrgyz citizens will not be allowed into the closed gambling area. According to the ministry, the initiative was recommended by the business community, because, despite the official ban, underground casinos still operate.

The planned facilities will be located on an area of 30 hectares near the Manas International Airport, 26 kilometers from Bishkek.

It is also planned to create an entertainment and gaming complex in the Issyk-Kul region, to attract more tourists.

The investment project includes hotels, shops, conference rooms, exhibition and commercial facilities, as well as a gaming center whose services will be provided only to foreign nationals.

The ban on gambling activities led to direct losses of the state budget amounting to more than 500 million soms annually.

The ministry believes that state regulation of gambling activities is necessary.

The undoubted advantage of the investment project is stricter government regulation, the ministry said. According to the authors of the initiative, implementation of this project will promote the development of tourism, the exchange of cultures, and in the future will help improve the investment climate in the country. The project plans to attract at least $200 million in investments. However, it did not specify the sources of financing.

Background

The suggestion to legalize gambling negates all efforts of society to fight mass gambling resulting in tragedies in many families.

In September 2011 a public campaign against the casinos began. Activists explained that Kyrgyzstan had become “an island of gambling” in Central Asia because gamblers rushed to Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan, Russia, and even Belarus where the gaming business beyond certain zones was banned.

The international experience shows that casinos are often used for money laundering by drug-trafficking criminal groups, said Kyrgyz MPs and banned casinos in 2012. Thousands of slot machines and dozens of casinos were closed.

Pros and cons

Some MPs criticized the government’s initiative to legalize gambling. According to MP Torobay Zulpukarov, under the Criminal Code of Kyrgyzstan, gambling, along with drug abuse, is a crime and that is why the previous, fifth convocation of the Parliament insisted on the ban.

He urged the Government not to put the interests of some businessmen above the interests of the entire population.

The Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the Association of Resorts supported the idea. They believe that the gambling business can bring good income to Kyrgyzstan.

According to MP Azamat Arapbayev, it is necessary to introduce a passport regime and free entry only for foreign citizens and tourists. He proposed creating a special visa-free zone in the Tamchy airport in the Issyk-Kul region.

To attract investors, more favorable conditions should be created for construction of hotels and casinos, he added. To support the state budget, MP proposed to significantly increase the cost of the license and patents for casinos.

Casinos and gambling is evil, but income from their legal activity may be large and can support the national budget and attract more tourists in the country, the MP concluded.