Ukraine Parliament Moves To Restrict Gambling

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament passed a law Friday temporarily prohibiting gambling until all casinos and slot machines are moved to a government-approved legal gambling area on the Black Sea far away from the capital.

A gambling hall in Kiev.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to ratify the bill, arguing that gambling in this economically struggling ex-Soviet republic has reached the scale of an epidemic, especially among Ukrainian youth.

"The gambling addiction has turned into an epidemic," Valery Pysarenko, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party, told The Associated Press. "Today marks a big victory for all Ukrainians."

The party co-wrote the bill together with the main opposition party. The bill will take effect after it is signed by President Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko has not spoken about the law and his spokeswoman Larisa Mudrak declined to say whether he would back the bill.

Last week, nine people were killed in a fire in a gambling hall in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk, drawing public attention to the issue.

Pysarenko said it was also necessary to regulate the gambling industry, because the majority of casinos and gambling halls evade taxes. He said the state budget receives only about 700 million hryvna ($93 million) annually out of an estimated $5 billion of industry turnover.

The law prohibits gambling at the risk of hefty fines and other penalties. Those who are caught gambling could be sentenced to prison, Pysarenko said.

The ban is expected to last several months, until a new law will set up a government-controlled area for gambling. The plan is to relocate all casinos to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a popular tourist destination, turning it into a "Ukrainian Las Vegas," according to Pysarenko.

Source: AP