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Gambling and war: are these two concepts compatible?


For more than eleven years - from May 2009 to August 2020 - the gambling market in Ukraine existed only in the illegal plane, as there was a direct legal ban on its organization and conduct. And all this time, the problem of gambling addiction (ludomania) was of no interest to either the media or politicians.

It was only with the start of the presidential reform to legalize gambling and the adoption of the law On State Regulation of Activities on the Organization and Conduct of Gambling in the summer of 2020 that gambling addiction was defined in legislation for the first time in the history of Ukraine as a problem that needs to be addressed at the state level.

The law also introduced regulations on the need to prevent gambling addiction and counteract its spread. The national regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries, was authorized to maintain the Register of persons who are restricted from accessing gambling facilities and/or participating in gambling and to enter data on gambling abusers.

Currently, this Register contains almost 6,000 people, while the population of Ukraine (according to pre-war estimates) was approximately 37 million (excluding the occupied territories). That is, the number of gambling addicted is only 0.016% (!!!) of the total population. If we take into account the research conducted by the Ukrainian Gambling Council in 2021-22, more than 92% of respondents have never gambled or planned to gamble, and only 8% of respondents planned to gamble. Regular visits to casinos or other gambling facilities were out of the question.

If we compare the situation in Ukraine with developed countries, where the legal gambling market has existed for many years and has long been an integral part of the entertainment market, the interest in gambling and gambling addiction are also quite low. For example, in the UK, as of 2022, according to the UK Gambling Commission, less than 0.4% of the population regularly placed bets in online casinos during the year and almost 0.2% have gambling problems. For comparison, the number of alcohol addicts in the UK is much higher, i.e. more than 2% of the adult population.


Ludomania in the Armed Forces


As for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the military is a cross-section of society, so the situation with gambling interest cannot be any different than among other categories of the population.

According to the military themselves, the picture of gambling addiction in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as portrayed in the media, is exaggerated. Gambling addiction in the army is a partial phenomenon. Someone plays a little, and someone plays a lot. The minority of the personnel belong to the gambling addicts.

Maksym Skubenko, an instructor at the 5th separate assault brigade in Kyiv, clearly states that "it is a bit arrogant of civilians to think that 'our boys' cannot take responsibility for their own actions" when it comes to "concern about the risks of gambling addiction" and suggests that as a preventive measure, financial literacy courses should be developed and implemented for military personnel with a good advertising campaign.

Additionally, to combat gambling addiction and restrict access to legal gambling sites for the military, it makes sense to amend the current regulatory framework to allow unit commanders to contact the CRGL and, based on these requests, the data of avid gamblers would be entered into the Register. This has been repeatedly suggested by Ivan Rudyi, the head of the CRGL. In particular, he emphasized that "by law, family members of the first degree of kinship can add a player to the list. Commanders, for example, cannot do this. They are not on the list. Although this could affect the situation."

However, this will not solve the problem completely, as it is a ban that only legal gambling market organizers must comply with. The key is to fight illegal operators that are not subject to any rules and pose a real threat.

I would like to remind you that the legal gambling market consists of only 13 legal entities operating on the ground and 17 on the Internet. At the same time, there are 70 times more illegal websites! Today, the illegal online gambling segment is represented by at least 1200 websites. The number of illegal gambling halls is even more difficult to calculate.

Thus, monitoring is constantly carried out, and CRGL submits applications for blocking illegal resources. Law enforcement agencies are also working on this. However, without a comprehensive fight against shadow gambling, only restricting access to legal sites for military personnel suffering from gambling addiction will not work, as they will continue to play on illegal sites.

Worse, the shift of players to illegal sites will create another problem: most of these sites are controlled by racists, and they will collect data about our military, tracking where they play from, how often, how much money they lose, etc. It is not difficult to understand that all this information will be transferred to racist special services.

So, first of all, we need to intensify the work on closing illegal websites and at the same time regulate the issue of military access to legal gambling facilities.

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