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Ukraine bans online casinos for soldiers amid gambling addiction crisis

The ongoing war has worsened gambling addiction among Ukrainian soldiers, with many spending their earnings on games and even taking out microloans
Ukrainian soldier loads gun. Photo: Ukraine’s General Staff
Ukraine bans online casinos for soldiers amid gambling addiction crisis

Ukraine has moved to restrict online gambling, particularly targeting the country’s military, amid growing concerns about addiction among soldiers.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has enacted a decision by the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) to implement a series of measures to counter the negative consequences of online gambling, particularly targeting the country’s soldiers.

The move comes in response to a petition started by Pavlo Petrychenko, a commander of a UAV unit in the 59th separate motorized infantry brigade, on the president’s website. The petition, which quickly gained the necessary 25,000 signatures for consideration, called for restrictions on online casinos for soldiers, highlighting the alarming scale of the problem.

In an interview with NV, Petrychenko said, “Soldiers, torn from their families, find themselves in a stressful situation, and clicking on ‘slot machines’ on the phone is the most accessible temptation.” He added that the scale of the problem is large, based on his experience and that of his fellow soldiers in other units.

The RNBO has instructed the Cabinet of Ministers to develop procedures for limiting all forms of gambling advertising that use the symbols of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations. The council also called for a ban on registering multiple accounts for a single player and setting a weekly time limit for gambling activities.

“The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the heads of military formations during martial law should introduce a ban on soldiers’ access to online casinos,” the presidential decree states.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has been tasked with conducting inspections of gambling organizers within two months, while the National Bank of Ukraine must approve recommendations for banks to block citizens’ credit payments to gambling organizers’ accounts within the same timeframe.

The Ministry of Digital Transformation will engage in negotiations with tech giants Apple and Google within a month to ban the placement of gambling applications without a proper license in their app stores. Additionally, the Ministry of Health has been instructed to develop a clinical protocol for treating gambling addiction within three months.

Andriy Kozenchuk, an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and a military psychologist, confirmed the existence of the problem among soldiers who frequent online casinos and lose large sums. “The Ukrainian army is part of Ukrainian society. And to say that the army is teeming with losses in online casinos is probably a bit of an exaggeration. But avoiding the problem and saying, ‘No, we’re fine,’ is certainly not the case. So the problem exists, but I can’t say it’s all that bad,” Kozenchuk said in an interview with RFE/RL.

According to Ekonomichna Pravda, the turnover of the gambling business in 2023 amounted to UAH 12-15 billion ($302-376 million).

The current situation with gambling in Ukraine has its roots in the recent legalization of the industry. In 2020, President Zelenskyy signed a law on the gambling business, allowing the organization and conduct of gambling in casinos, slot machine halls, online poker, and bookmaking activities. The law also provided for the creation of a register of persons who are restricted from accessing gambling establishments and participating in gambling.

Before this, the gambling business in Ukraine was officially banned. However, as experts emphasized, this sphere simply operated “in the shadows.”

Ivan Rudyi, head of the Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries, stated in a comment to RFE/RL that protecting citizens’ rights and preventing gambling addiction is a priority task for the commission.

As of April 2024, the register of persons restricted from accessing gambling establishments contains information on 5,877 individuals.

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