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Kyrgyz Protesters Demand Full Enforcement Of Antigambling Law

Casino employees picketed the planned legislation to shut down gambling facilities in September.
BISHKEK -- Some 50 people have gathered in front of the Kyrgyz government building in Bishkek to demand enforcement of a new law against gambling.

The law came into force on January 1, but several casinos in the Kyrgyz capital were still operating two days later, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

Protester Akyl Chmankulov told local media that antigambling protests would continue until all gambling halls are shut down.

The law was signed by then-President Roza Otunbaeva in November after parliament approved the bill in late September, despite protests by casino employees in Bishkek, Jalal-Abad, and Osh.

Owners of casinos and gambling halls have vowed to take legal action, saying the new law is unconstitutional. They also argue that the ban leaves some 15,000 gambling-industry employees without jobs.

Legal Challenges

Opponents argue that the ban on gambling violates the country's investment law, as it forces some foreign investors out of business without any right to compensation.

The law, however, has been welcomed by antigambling campaigners, including many family members of gambling addicts.

Svetlana Kovalitskaya, a former gambling addict, says she has lost all her savings to gambling -- including her son's college fund and the money she saved to purchase an apartment.

Kovalitskaya tells RFE/RL she sought counseling to treat her addiction, and later joined many other former addicts and their relatives to demand the authorities outlaw gambling.

Reined In?

According to official statistics, the gambling industry annually contributed some 500 million soms (nearly $11 million) in taxes to Kyrgyzstan's economy.

The state agency for regulation and supervision of financial markets confirmed in October that there were 23 officially registered casinos in Kyrgyzstan, including 14 in the capital, Bishkek, and four in the southern town of Osh.

There were also some 300 gambling halls throughout the country, but only 17 of them had obtained official license while others have been registered as "entertainment clubs," the agency's officials were quoted by local media as saying.

There were calls in Kyrgyzstan to create a single gambling zone in the country, but parliament rejected such proposals.

Written by Farangis Najibullah, based on RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service reporting
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