Mixed feelings about the legalised Ukrainian gambling market

Anton Kuchukidze, chairman of the Ukrainian Gambling Council, says the legalisation of gambling in the country has been a success, despite claims that illegal gambling halls remain a serious problem, according to the Danish Udenlandske Spillesider.

In the year since the legalisation of the industry, the Ukrainian government has issued 40 licences. In addition, gambling advertising has returned to TV screens, public transport and billboards, and President Volodymyr Zelenski believes the industry could bring in 160 million euros ($187 million) a year.

Such activity has been illegal in the country since 2009, when a tragic fire in a gambling hall in Dnipropetrovsk led MPs to ban casinos, betting shops and Internet gambling.

But Kuchukidze sees the new legislation as a "success story for Ukraine," noting that until 2009, although the sector was under government control, the sector was highly unregulated and children and addicts had access to establishments such as casinos.

He added that the situation worsened after the ban, when illegal gambling halls appeared all over the country, decorated as lottery shops, which were not affected by the ban.

But now the new rules will restrict which companies can run casinos online and offline, and only hotels of a certain standard are allowed to open casinos. Penalties are also in place to keep operators under control.

However, concerns remain over issues such as illegal gambling halls and the recent arrest of a member of Ukraine's Gambling and Lottery Regulatory Commission on suspicion of accepting a bribe to issue a gambling licence. Sergei Potapov, CEO of online casino Cosmolot, meanwhile, says that new companies are reluctant to enter the market because of high taxes.

According to Potapov, online casinos have to pay an annual fee of €170,000 and players also have to pay a tax of 19.5% on their winnings. A new law to change the annual fee is being discussed, but according to Potapov, until it comes into force, new companies will not enter the market.

"We are ready to pay taxes and we do," Potapov said. "But the tax system has to change to be competitive, to compete with Russia, Belarus or other countries. I think many companies are waiting to enter the market until the new law is passed. It is not sustainable as it is now and everyone understands that."