Update on Georgia casinos

That’s casinos in Georgia the country, not Georgia the state. Apparently big changes are afoot.

From The Messenger:

new draft law on regulating gambling in Georgia is currently being discussed in Parliament.
The new draft proposes radical changes to the gambling industry, particularly casinos.

If Parliament adopts the draft prepared by the Ministry of Finance, then the number of casinos will be hugely reduced in Tbilisi; while Batumi and Tskhaltubo, in Imereti, will become casino cities.

According to the draft law on gambling, which the government presented to Parliament six weeks ago, the price of a license for Tbilisi casinos will be increased to GEL 3 million. Casinos in Batumi, however, will only have to pay GEL 500,000, while licenses for casinos in Tskhaltubo will be free of charge.

The government’s intention in giving privileged status to Tskhaltubo is to try and revive the region, which is in much worse economic shape than the capital. Despite its small size, Tskhaltubo, which was a bustling resort in Soviet times, now has the third highest number of internally displaced persons in Georgia, after Tbilisi and Kutaisi. Its former status as a tourist town and its proximity to Kopitnari airport are also factors that have been taken into account by the government.

Representatives of the Ministry of Finance say the government is not opposed to the gambling industry, and does not want to see it close down, but it does want to regulate the industry more strictly, and also hopes that through the increased cost of licenses in Tbilisi it will be able to revive Tskhaltubo, as casinos move there to take advantage of the free licensing.

The proposal has met with a mixed response from parliamentarians, who have put forward several proposed amendments to the draft.

MP Roman Gotsiridze questions why the government is putting up license fees to a level that most Tbilisi casinos will have to close, if, as it says, it does not want to close casinos. As long as there is just one casino in Tbilisi, he argues further, few people will travel to Batumi or Tskhaltubo to gamble, as “about 99 percents of players are foreigners and Tbilisi citizens.”

Rather than leading to the revival of the regions, then, this gambling draft is likely to result in just one or two huge casinos in Tbilisi replacing the many small ones that exist now.

MP Zurab Tkemaladze thinks that it would be better to move the gambling industry to the village of Udabno in Kakheti instead of Tskaltubo, as it is near to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although there is no airport or corresponding infrastructures there, representatives of the gambling industry should develop this, Tkemaladze argues, adding that “Las Vegas was built in the desert too.”

MP Beso Jugheli, meanwhile, thinks that the gambling industry should be abolished as it is in neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan. “Casinos make trouble for the nation. People play with borrowed money,” the newspaper 24 Saati quotes Jugheli as saying.

Regulating the gambling industry

Opinion seems divided: one side wants to recreate Las Vegas in Udabno (hey, who doesn’t), one wants things to remain the same, and another wants to be done with gambling completely.

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