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.
Finance Minister Alena Schillerová has all but declared victory in the battle to restrict, monitor – and collect taxes from – casinos and gaming machine bars. Over the past seven years, she told reporters, the number of casinos has dropped by three-quarters and the number of gaming machines by nearly half, to under 39,000 at last count.
“I’m definitely very satisfied with how things are going. The Czech Republic has ceased to be a casino in the heart of Europe. Since January 2012, the number of casinos is down from 7,600 to roughly 1,800 – one quarter as many. So that’s a great result.”
Minister Schillerová said this is proof that Gambling Law of 2017 is working. And while last year most brick-and-mortar casinos were re-licensed, they now operating under tougher restrictions which aim to fight addiction – and tax evasion.
Casinos are obliged to register players, for example, take breaks in the action, and help gamblers exercise self-control. Roman, a recovering gambling addict, told Czech Radio he wished such controls had been in place before his habit took hold.
“I was a compulsive gambler for 13 years. I tried every slot machine there is – fruit machines, roulette… I was also betting on everything. From Chinese ping pong to you name it. And then I starting going online.”
The Ministry of Finance is readying an IT system that will include a list of people banned from gambling. These including people on welfare, facing distraint or in bankruptcy proceedings, or – like Roman – are in treatment for addiction.
Meanwhile, concerns about compulsive gambling and criminal activity linked to casinos and gaming bars – considered eyesores by many property owners – have led 457 Czech municipalities to implement total bans on them.
Among them is the Prague 2 district, which includes Vyšehrad and parts of Vinohrady, New Town and Nusle. Several other Prague districts have announced “zero tolerance” for gambling and petitioned the Ministry of Finance to strip remaining outlets of their licences.
But another legal battle remains, over so-called “kvizomats” – quiz or trivia machines – that have popped up in place of banned slot machines. Michal Varmuža, a lawyer representing kvizomat operators, argues they merely test knowledge.
“Our clients operate machines such Diamond Jewel or Hollywood Popcorn, where the only way to get some reward is to fulfil tasks or correctly answer questions. In our opinion, these are not gaming machines.”
Many kvizomat operators have refused to pay taxes imposed on gaming machines. But don’t bet on it lasting. Minister Schillerová says she has them in her sights, and over the past two years the Customs Administration has impounded about 3,000 of them.