Ukraine passes bill to legalise gambling

By Hayley Grammer

The Supreme Council of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada) on Tuesday voted in favour of country-wide gambling after a 248-95 victory at second reading.

The bill will see the legalisation of online gambling, bookmaking and land-based casinos, however casinos may only be located in hotels. The Verkhovna Rada passed more than 100 amendments in the weeks preceding the vote after opposition parties presented more than 3,000 for consideration, though these amendments are yet to be made public.

Under the latest published version of the bill, as approved by the Committee on Finance, Tax and Customs Policy, licence fees for online gambling are set at $1.1m to be paid upon renewal every five years. Bookmakers’ licence fees were set at $2.6m, while a flat fee of $4.5m was set for casinos located in hotels in Ukraine's capital Kyiv, with a $2.6m fee for casinos in hotels elsewhere.

Parimatch Holding, Ukraine’s largest international betting company, welcomed the new legislation, calling it a landmark moment for both the international betting industry and Ukraine's liberalising economy.

“The development of a fair and regulated betting industry is excellent news for Ukraine,” Parimatch said in a statement. “It will draw international investment [to] help grow important technology and payments sectors that are the foundation of the betting industry. Through the license fees and tax contributions, it will also generate much needed revenue for the state budget. After the bill is finally ratified, we believe there is a requirement to reform the Tax Code of Ukraine to accompany this regulatory framework, [thereby] ensuring the long-term viability of the industry in Ukraine.”

The bill also sets out restrictions on the origins and ownership of businesses in the market, stipulating that all operators and slot machine suppliers “must not be controlled by residents of an occupying state or the aggressor state in relation to Ukraine”.

This clause refers specifically to Russian-owned businesses, as clarified in other Ukrainian legislation. The clause also applies to businesses with Russian directors, heads of accounting or ultimate beneficial ownership, though it does not appear to apply to suppliers other than land-based slots.

The bill will still need to be signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky to come into effect, however he has been a vocal supporter of regulated gambling in the past.

All gambling except state-run lotteries became illegal in 2009 after nine people were killed in a fire at a slots parlour in Dnipropetrovsk, but the country has looked to reintroduce legal gambling since 2015.

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