After dozens of people gathered in capital Bishkek's Gorky Park on June 24 to protest the move, Kyrgyzstan President Sdyr Japarov commented on the much-discussed legalization of casinos for foreigners, defending the proposal in a new interview.
“The state must control it and at the same time, must take care of our citizens who attend underground casinos. If we legalize casinos, the underground will disappear," he said, in conversation with state news agency Kabar. Despite a ban on casinos adopted in 2012, properties are reportedly still operational in the illegal market.
Under the proposed casino legalization law, approved on June 22, foreign customers will be able to enter casinos while it will remain forbidden for Kyrgyz citizens. In addition, the casino owner will have to purchase a license to run the property.
“If a citizen of Kyrgyzstan enters the casino the owner will lose his license purchased for millions of dollars," Japarov explained, and added that millionaires from abroad will be the only clients allowed in the properties.
“The budget will receive billions of dollars, which we will use to repair roads, pay off debts. We will not depend solely on taxes and customs revenues, these funds will be an additional source for the budget. So we will be able to triple our salaries," he further told Kabar. "The casino is not my personal interest; it is in the interest of the whole state."
These statements come after protests took place on June 24 to urge Japarov to veto the law, with protesters aiming to turn to the Constitutional Court and demand it find the bill unconstitutional. The rallies took place both in Osh City and Bishkek.
Lawmakers approved the bill on June 22 after voting was disrupted four times due to the refusal of many lawmakers to take part in the proceeding, according to Radio Free Europe. The protesters said the bill was approved without proper public discussion and therefore should be withdrawn.
The new law states that land-based casinos must only be set up in restaurants or hotel complexes. Slot halls, meanwhile, must be separate rooms or buildings from any other type of business activity. Casinos located in Bishkek must have at least 10 gaming tables, while those elsewhere must have at least five. Slot halls must contain at least 30 machines.
Casinos and slot halls must also have a currency exchange bureau licensed by the National bank of Kyrgyzstan, as well as a number of security measures in place. Use of credit cards and loans to gamble is prohibited, except for playing land-based slots.
A body will be set up by the country’s Cabinet of Ministers to regulate gambling and set license fees. The bill is set to come into force six months after publication once signed into law. The legislation also legalizes retail bookmakers and online casino games.