Liechtenstein, deemed by punters as the "Las Vegas of the Alps," currently has six active operators dotted across a microstate a tenth the size of London and with a population of just 40,000. However, a casino ban is being put to a referendum on January 29, and if it passes, the casinos will have to close within five years.
The referendum, and the signatures needed to activate it, were brought about by the pressure group IG VolksMeinung, formed to fight the "casino flood." They argue that the gaming industry risks damaging a reputation that the country, on an international blacklist of tax havens until it began easing bank secrecy laws more than a decade ago, has worked hard to regain.
"We don't want to establish ourselves as a casino and poker hotspot in the middle of Europe," one of its members, Guido Meier, said at a discussion on the upcoming vote, as reported by Reuters. "It's a big reputation problem."
However, this push is against the interests of the local gambling industry, including Gryphon Invest AG, which indirectly owns majority stakes in half of Liechtenstein's gambling houses.
"We hope that the voters will follow the advice of the two major parties, as well as the economic chamber and further institutions, and recognize that a well-regulated market is better than an outright ban," Gryphon told Reuters in a statement.
All six operators have opened since 2017, when a change in the law made gambling legal, welcoming crowds from Germany and neighboring Switzerland and Austria.
Reinhard Fischer, president of Liechtenstein's casino association and director of the country's Grand Casino, believes that irrespective of the referendum's outcome, natural attrition within a limited market will reduce the number nationally anyway, to a maximum of four.
He does not accept the argument that the industry represents a reputational threat. "What we do is in accordance with the law and in some cases even above the level required by law," he said.
It should be noted that last year, taxes brought by the trips made by mainly foreign visitors to Liechtenstein's casinos generated 50 million Swiss francs ($54.51 million). "This is certainly revenue that is also relevant for our budget," Deputy Prime Minister Sabine Monauni said.
The government has been encouraging the population to vote against the proposed ban, which Monauni describes as "too radical, too excessive" and as not solving the problem of gambling addiction.
"We want to continue to allow gambling in Liechtenstein and that's why we now have to find a balance between measures that reduce activity but at the same time don't totally destroy the market," she concluded.