October 27, 2023
Ukrainian officials are adopting the methods used by US authorities in the 1980s to eliminate the Italian mob from Las Vegas casinos in their efforts to oust Russian actors from the country's gambling industry. After a 10-year ban, gambling was legalized in Ukraine shortly before the full-scale invasion in February 2022. However, it has become a profitable avenue for Russians to make money and collect personal data from Ukrainian gamblers.
To address this issue, the gambling regulator in Ukraine has started revoking licenses and sanctioning individuals and legal entities related to Russian gambling businesses. The focus has also been on banks and financial institutions suspected of aiding the laundering of gambling profits for Russian oligarchs. Despite concerns of Russian influence even within the supervising bodies, Ukrainian authorities remain determined to respond to this threat.
In an effort to reform the Ukrainian system and eliminate Russian influence, the Ukrainian regulator has received an invitation from the US Gaming Control Board to visit Nevada and learn from American regulators. Olena Vodolazhko, a member of Ukraine's Gambling and Lottery Regulation Commission, expressed the importance of American regulators' experience, particularly in dealing with challenges such as the mafia and foreign influence.
The law legalizing gambling in Ukraine in 2020 allowed for the opening of casinos and slot machine halls in hotels, as well as online gambling and bookmaking. However, Russian gambling organizations and legal advisers associated with oligarchs quickly entered the market. Amid allegations of continued Russian influence, Boris Baum, the head of an advisory body to the regulator, was forced from office. The regulator is now focused on shrinking the possibilities of money laundering by reforming currency tracking systems.
The Ukrainian authorities see combating Russian influence as a challenge for every public servant and citizen. They recognize that any opportunity for Russia to make money or gain influence makes them stronger. By following the example of US regulators and law enforcement organizations, Ukraine aims to remove Russian actors from its gambling industry and protect its sovereignty.
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