Ukraine’s Illegal Gambling Market Thrives as Government Fails to Set Regulations

The lack of solid regulation in the Ukrainian gambling and betting industry has resulted in a booming underground gambling business while millions of dollars are going down the drain. According to local media reports, hundreds of gambling facilities disguised as lottery offices, are freely operating across the country.
Officially, almost all forms of gambling are banned in Ukraine with only licensed lotteries allowed to operate. Since 2009, when the Verkhovna Rada (the name of the Parliament) passed the ban into law, however, there have been multiple reports of existing underground gaming facilities. By July 2009, more than 6,000 illegal slot machines had been confiscated from dozens of illegal establishments. Investigations led to over 200 criminal charges. Things have not changed a lot since then.
In an article, the Kyiv Post uncovers what turns out to be a widespread scheme for illegal gambling operations that are carried out freely under the guise of lottery offices. The newspaper describes in details that the lack of clear regulation of the sector has allowed illegal businesses to thrive, nurturing organized crime and corruption. In 2012, according to the publication, the Rada loosened the gambling ban, allowing lottery operators to run gambling activities. During that time, the majority in the Parliament was held by the Party of Regions, the party of former president Viktor Yanukovych who is currently in exile in Russia and wanted by Ukraine for high treason.
As a result of the unfinished reforms in the sector – special legislation and gambling zones were initially considered, operators of underground gaming facilities are now offering slot-like games under their lottery licenses. There are lottery offices in every city and town across the country and many of them only pretend to offer lottery tickets. Although logos of the Ukrainian National Lottery can be seen, there are no lottery products on sale. Interestingly, there are no slot machines visible, as well.
The facilities are, actually, packed with computers – their keyboards are specifically customized to work like classic slot machines. Customers purchase plastic cards that are placed into special slots on the keyboard and the computer instantly turns into a Vegas-style casino game, the Kyiv Post reveals. Only cash is accepted, of course. And authorities seem to be clueless about this simple, yet extremely effective scheme, the paper suggests.
Revenues from Illegal Gambling Reach $1 Billion
It is impossible to estimate the exact cost of the black market gambling industry to Ukraine’s economy but it is certainly within the six and seven-figure range. The Kyiv Post spoke to Agia Zagrebelska of the Anti-Monopoly Committee who says that the revenues from illegal gambling reach $1 billion a year. According to other foreign experts, underground gaming operators generate much more from their unregulated activity.
Every year, Ukrainian lotteries pay around $2 million in taxes. The tax revenue that comes from lottery winners, on the other hand, is approximately $4 million, which is, by all standards, bizarre. In fact, most things related to gambling in Ukraine is out of the ordinary – there are three operators which held licenses granted by the state, namely MSL, Patriot, and the Ukrainian National Lottery. Their licenses have expired in 2014 but due to a legal loophole, they can operate until new licenses are issued.
Each of the three operators is allowed to run up to 5,000 lottery shops, which suggests that there must be up to 15,000 lottery offices on the territory of Ukraine. In addition, these three operators have extended their permits via franchise to some 180 retailing companies that can sell lottery tickets. As a result, the actual number of lottery offices could not be estimated. At the same time, the Anti-Monopoly Committee says that only 19 percent of them sell lottery products, while the rest functioning like gaming facilities or betting shops. Overall, the underground gambling scene seems to be thriving in Ukraine and the state is losing millions of dollars due to the lack of oversight and resolution to come up with a new legal frame.
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