Las Vegas in Kyrgyzstan: post-Soviet country launches casino for tourists

Parliament of Kyrgyzstan adopted the law on the legalization of casinos – 10 years after gambling establishments were outlawed in the country. It is assumed that the entrance to them will be open only to foreigners, and casinos will be able to operate only in a specially designated area in the resort of Issyk-Kul region, reports the BBC.

Las Vegas in Kyrgyzstan: post-Soviet country launches casino for tourists

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The authorities hope to replenish the budget in this way – however, there are fears that not only visitors will play in the casino.

According to the plan of the country's authorities, tourists will be brought to the playing zone by charter flights, which will be accepted by the Tamchi International Airport located on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul. Near it, they intend to build “seven hotel and entertainment centers with permission to conduct gambling business”, while foreign players will be able to come to the gaming zone without visas.

The operation of the casino has been banned in Kyrgyzstan since 2012, and bookmakers and sweepstakes – since 2015. The country's authorities were forced to make such a decision after numerous protests from relatives of people who squandered their property and savings. Some victims of gambling addiction have lost their homes.

Opponents of the bill also worry about the 600,000 Kyrgyz migrants who have received citizenship from other countries, including Russia and Kazakhstan. Often it is they who fly back to Kyrgyzstan for vacation.

However, the authors of the new bill on gambling establishments, deputies Baktybek Turusbekov and Dastan Dzhumabekov, recall that due to the ban, the country's budget lost about $7 million annually, and the economy lost 11,000 jobs. Parliamentarians insist that residents of Kyrgyzstan will not be able to play in the casino, and tourists should be helped to spend their money.

“You see the state of our economy. It takes a lot of time to build factories. Considering all this, we proposed the following bill, – explains Turusbekov. – We know that almost 90% of tourists coming to the Kyrgyz Republic go to Issyk-Kul. Now we need to try to make sure that they leave their money with us”.

Old problems of the new president

According to the bill, at least half of all jobs in new gaming establishments should be taken by local residents. It is assumed that investors will receive 60% of the profits from their work, and the state – 40%.

The authors of the project believe that new revenues will help the economy of Kyrgyzstan, all sectors of the economy of which have suffered greatly due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of 2020, the country's budget had an unprecedented deficit of 8.6% in 26 years, and the public debt rose to 68% of GDP. According to the World Bank, due to declining incomes and rising unemployment, 31% of the country's population lives below the poverty line.

The economic problems of Kyrgyzstan should be solved by the new president of the country, Sadyr Japarov, who unexpectedly came to power after mass protests in October 2020. In January, Zhaparov won early presidential elections, and in early March, he changed the constitution in a referendum, strengthening his powers and practically concentrating executive power in his hands.

Zhaparov supports the bill on the gambling zone, even suggests opening such establishments in all regions of the country.

“You can see for yourself the current state of the economy, we are trying to use any way to replenish the budget, – said the president in an interview with the local TV channel “Pyramid”. – With the help of the casino, we will immediately kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, an expensive license to open an institution, for example, six years ago it cost one and a half million dollars. And secondly, every gambling table and machine will be taxed. In addition, licenses will be issued only to those who can open a five-star hotel”.

Zhaparov also promised that if residents of Kyrgyzstan are allowed into gambling establishments, the owners of such casinos will be deprived of their license.

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According to the TASS agency, about a million foreign tourists visited Lake Issyk-Kul annually before the coronavirus pandemic.

All losers

But some economists believe that the bill to legalize casinos requires more analysis and study of the experience of other countries. “In the Krasnodar Territory, about 0.1% of income to the budget from the gambling business, but, of course, there are related sectors, including tourism, – says economist Zhunus Ganeev. – But in Issyk-Kul the season lasts only three months, and what will happen to establishments at other times of the year? How will the sector affect the crime rate?”

In addition, based on the experience of the gambling business in the past, some do not believe that the ban on casinos for local residents will work. One of the initiators of the bill to ban gambling in 2012, deputy Bakyt Zhetigenov, is still against the casino.

“Very wealthy people are behind such an initiative, and those who propose the bill are their puppets, – Zhetigenov assures. – They just need to get the – under the guise that it will only be for foreigners”. But there is no guarantee that our citizens will not be allowed in there. “Then let's also plant opium in Issyk-Kul, hemp grows well there. Let's make our lake such a territory. It seems to me that such initiatives will not benefit anyone”, – Zhetigenov believes.

Gambling addiction, also known as gambling addiction, is classified as a mental disorder in many states, including the United States. According to the American Psychiatric Association, on average, 2-3% of the adult population of this country suffer from it.

Director of the Crisis Center “Sezim” Bubusara Ryskulova spoke about how in 2012-2015 victims of gambling establishments often contacted her.

“When Kyrgyzstan practically turned into Las Vegas, the number of people applying to our crisis center increased significantly. Casinos were often the cause of divorce, – Ryskulova says. – There were those who lost their only home, their own wife. Drug addiction, alcoholism and gambling – These are practically incurable diseases. Underground casinos still continue to operate. Why is it necessary to open new ones in Issyk-Kul if we cannot close the existing ones?”

This is not the first controversial bill proposed by the Japarov government. Prior to this, the president announced an economic amnesty for corrupt officials who will be able to be released from criminal punishment if the stolen funds are returned to the state treasury. economic articles” (“Illegal Business”, “Tax Evasion”, “Smuggling”, “Commercial Bribery”, “Corruption” and etc.), to be released from custody and court, if this person in the pre-trial detention center cooperated with the investigation and paid the damage.

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