A decade ago, the Czech Republic had more gaming machines per capita than any other country in the European Union. But “one-armed bandits” have steadily disappeared from the nation’s dive bars following the introduction of new legislation and statues, and many municipalities have outright banned casinos.
Just a few years ago Prague had more casinos than Las Vegas. A restrictive law which came into force last year has seen their numbers dwindle, but it failed to address the problem of gambling, sending compulsive gamblers online and creating a new group of young addicts who have never set foot inside a gaming house. The head of the government’s National Anti-Drug Agency Jindřich Vobořil says the young generation has become the primary target of the gaming industry.
Civic Democratic Party Senator Veronika Vrecionová will file a complaint with the Constitutional Court over a law regulating the gaming business, which allows Finance Ministry employees to block web pages on suspicion that they are offering gaming online. The law was approved by the Senate in May of this year and signed by President Zeman in June. Senator Vrecionová, who has collected 21 signatures in the upper house in support of her complaint, says that rank-and-file ministry employees should not have the right to make such a decision and argues that the law opens the way to possible violations of freedom of speech.
National anti-drugs coordinator Jindřich Vobořil has warned of a rise in online gambling among the young. In his 2015 report on gambling addictions, Mr. Vobořil said online gambling had become a new phenomenon in the gambling industry. He said there was a dramatic increase in online gamblers among the young with 30 percent of people under 17 saying they had tried it. Earlier this year Parliament approved a law aimed at restricting online gambling which should come into force next year. The national anti-drugs coordinator said a restrictive policy must go hand in hand with prevention and treatment.
The Finance Ministry has launched administrative proceedings to curtail the licenses of 200 gaming bars in Prague. The move comes in line with a new regulation to tighten the rules governing the gambling business according to which gambling will only be allowed in a restricted number of casinos. The restriction has raised protests from the Gaming Industry Union which says that the stricter regulations will just speed up the movement of most of the business online.
The lower house of Parliament has agreed to raise taxes on gambling from the current 20 percent to 28 percent. According to news website iDnes, among the most affected will be venues offering gambling machines such as video lottery terminals. Under the ruling coalition proposal, tax on lotteries and betting agencies will also increase, to 23 percent.
Opposition deputies on Tuesday criticised Finance Minister Andrej Babiš for being absent from an extraordinary lower house session debating his proposal to increase taxation on gambling. Mr. Babiš was one of many MPs absent from the Chamber of Deputies on the eve of the state holiday marking the anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. In a telephone interview, the ANO chief told Czech Television that there would have been no need for Tuesday’s debate if TOP 09’s Miroslav Kalousek had not previously delayed a vote on the matter at hand by speaking at such length in the lower house.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka says Deputy PM and Finance Minister Andrej Babiš should apologise to two government MPs who he said were influenced by the gambling lobby. Mr. Sobotka said such unfounded attacks were out of place in the coalition. Mr. Babiš made the comments in connection with a vote on gambling tax on Monday. One of the two MPs, Jan Bartošek of the Christian Democrats, said he expected an apology, though the ANO chief said none would be forthcoming.