The government of Kyrgyzstan has come to the realization that approving a gambling ban is far easier than enforcing that ban.
On Tuesday, Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Economy posted a draft resolution to its website that would approve a foreigners-only gambling facility as part of an international trade and exhibition center near Manas International Airport outside the country’s capital Bishkek.
The Ministry hopes the new international center will attract foreign direct investment of “at least $200m” and that the finished project will promote “tourism” and “the exchange of cultures,” which it hopes will in turn promote more international investment.
The announcement came four years after the former Soviet republic followed the lead of Mother Russia by banning gambling. Predictably, within a year, the number of underground casinos operating in the country had more than doubled. Clearly unwilling (or unable) to learn from its mistakes, the government went on to ban sports betting this year.
But in its recent statement, the Ministry acknowledged that the ban, while “guided by good intentions,” has been an abject failure. The ban “has led not to [gambling’s] stoppage, but to its movement into the shadows.” The Ministry noted that nothing in its power seemed to be able to stop the spread of casinos and “gaming machines rooms.”
Worse, just like the US’ ill-fated experiment with alcohol prohibition, Kyrgyzstan’s gambling ban has led to “the development of criminal organizations” all too eager to satisfy pent-up consumer demand. And the Ministry ominously noted that “government bodies may enter into the sphere of influence” of these criminal types, leading to “increased corruption.”
Finally, we get to the real reason for the about-face in policy. The Ministry says the gambling ban has cost the government an estimated 500m soms (US $6.6m) per year in lost tax revenue.
Of course, since the new gambling venue won’t be accessible to Kyrgyzstan’s citizens, its addition will do absolutely nothing to stem the tide of illegal venues and their purported ability to corrupt public officials. But perhaps we can look forward to that in the Ministry’s next mea culpa.