Situated in the Eastern part of Europe, Ukraine is the largest country within the entire European continent by land area – and is even one of the largest countries in the world. Surrounded by the Black Sea and the Sea of Ozoz as well as the countries of Belarus, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Moldova, Ukraine is a phenomenal nation with a population of more than 40 million people.
It has a rich history as well as a wealth of diverse tourist attractions and heritage sites. People from all over the world visit Ukraine every year for the numerous Orthodox monasteries and churches (Saint Sophia Cathedral and Kiev Pechersk Lavra in the capital city of Kiev are prime examples), the Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, the 14th-century Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle, the Carpathian Mountains, and other fascinating sites.
When it comes to gambling, however, Ukraine is rather unsatisfactory. Most forms of gambling were made illegal in 2009, and as of 2018, there are no casinos in the country. With that said, poker has remained legal and is considered a sport there.
– Button Poker Club (Kiev)
– Europe Club (Kiev)
– Flash Poker Club (Kharkiv)
– Full House Kiev (Kiev)
– Full House Poker Club (Kharkiv)
– Full House Poker Room (Kramatorsk)
– FreeZeout (Lviv)
– Good Game (Kiev)
– Poker Club Замок (Kiev)
– Sapphire Club (Kiev)
– Sparta Poker Clud (Dnipro)
– Twins Poker Room (Dnipro)
– WIN Poker Club (Odessa)
– Школа Покера (Black Raincoat) (Odessa)
What started off as a massive gambling industry went through a detrimental stage in 2009 as the Ukrainian authorities declared all forms of gambling illegal. First, the history of gambling in Ukraine is quite debatable, like most eastern European countries’. The country itself has gone through a range of diverse phases—and throughout those phases, there are little to no references to any form of gambling being participated by Ukrainians.
To think about it, Ukraine is verified to have been established as the area where the domestication of horses by humans occured between 43,000 BC and 45,000 BC. From the Antes people and the Golden Age of Kiev (when Kievan Rus’ was the largest, most powerful state on the European continent) to domination by foreign kingdoms and states and the creation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in the 20th century, gambling in Ukraine was completely nonexistent.
Eventually, a negligible amount of gambling activities were introduced as the country was declared independent on June 30, 1941, based on the Declaration of Ukrainian Independence. This continued until the industry witnessed a re-framed growth when Ukraine finally became an independent state on August 24, 1991, with the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine.
Accordingly, both local and foreign operators developed an interest in the country’s gambling industry, mainly because of its massive area and population. The very first gambling legislation—law “On Gambling Games in Ukraine”—was passed and came into effect in 2003.
As gambling became legal, many gambling facilities emerged. There were roughly 40 casinos – large like those in Macau SAR and Las Vegas – and there were more than 100,000 gambling halls spread throughout the country, according to former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009.
Tymoshenko, the first and only female Prime Minister of Ukraine, believed that gambling takes the last money from poor families and corrupts young citizens. So when the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) sent the bill that placed a blanket ban on the Ukrainian gambling industry, she welcomed it delightfully. She also stated that the gambling fine would be a total of 8,000 minimum wages, which is a good reason why people should deviate from gambling.
What actually caused the debate on whether to ban gambling in Ukraine or not took place in early-May 2009 when a fire broke out in a gambling hall situated in one of Ukraine’s largest cities, Dnipropetrovsk. The fire – which began when soccer supporters were watching Chelsea versus Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final – claimed the lives of nine people and severely injured 11 people due to the hall’s substandard safety measures; the director was soon confined. Immediately after the event, all gambling facilities (both gambling halls and casinos) and nightclubs in Dnipropetrovsk (known as Dnipro at the time) were closed so the Ukrainian forces could verify their safety measures.
The Verkhovna Rada seeing this deemed gambling an unfortunate activity as there were controversies prior to the event. The Verkhovna Rada created a bill in no time and passed it on May 15, 2009, as the law “On Prohibition of Gambling Business in Ukraine” (popularly called the Gambling Ban Law).
The majority of Ukrainian citizens protested against the law for three reasons. One, Ukraine’s gambling industry was enormous at the time; there were hundreds of thousands of gambling facilities. Two, the gambling facilities employed tens of thousands of citizens; banning them would render many unemployed. Three, the industry was about to witness more growth as more foreign operators were close to being licensed.
In spite of those protests and criticisms, the law was finally signed by former President Viktor Yushchenko on June 23, 2009, and came into effect two days later. According to the Gambling Ban Law, all forms of gambling (except some specific categories, which are listed in the Current Gambling Climate section below) became illegal; any business of such nature or participation in such activity were banned.
To enforce the prohibition, Ukrainian forces confiscated more than 6,000 slot machines on July 10, 2009. At the same time, more than 500 illegal operations were uncovered and there were roughly 220 criminal charges. And according to former Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchynov, the operators made around UAH 300,000, which accounted for a total of UAH 16 million fines. But instead of the Ukrainian forces to stop such operations, gambling operators bribed police officers successfully.
Interesting enough, the ban—which was prompted by a conflagration in a land-based establishment—touched online gambling as well. In fact, Turchynov stressed that online gambling is a form of gambling business—and since the Gambling Ban Law did not specify a form of gambling, the Law is also applicable to online gambling operations and operators. As a result, licenses of both land-based and online operators were revoked and could not be renewed.
To utilize the popularity of gambling in some areas before the ban, a draft law “On Gambling Organization and Maintenance of Gambling Activities in the Special Gambling Zones” was created in September 2009. The draft law was still on hold until it was introduced in 2010 (and made public on November 3) due to the country’s political instability when it was created.
According to the draft law, the state would establish and operate a gambling regulatory body—the National Gambling Operator—that will be tasked with overseeing the licensing and regulations of private gambling operators. Another draft law, “On State Control and Legal Basis for the Organization of Gambling”, was registered on July 24, 2015, by the Verkhovna Rada.
The draft law was established so the gambling industry of Ukraine can be rejuvenated according to EU regulations, laws and rules, and to create an effective and strictly-regulated licensing system with defined requirements. According to former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, gambling would provide extra income to fund Ukrainian cinema, art, and culture if it becomes legal once again. However, both draft laws have not been passed or signed since then.
Meanwhile, there were a number of flaws in the war against gambling when the Gambling Ban Law was signed. For one, poker was included in the list of recognized and legal sports on July 1, 2009, by the Justice Ministry of Ukraine; hence, gambling on poker games was still legal. Also, foreign online gambling operators were not prohibited to operate in the country; so, online gambling operators could simply move their servers to another country and still provide their gambling operations to Ukrainian players.
The first flaw made poker even more popular as poker tournaments thrived widely after a few months. To resolve the issue, the Justice Ministry of Ukraine removed poker from the list of recognized and legal sports on December 31, 2009. However, the Ukrainian Sports Poker Federation appealed the removal in 2013, which yielded a positive ruling as the court declared poker a sport. The second flaw was rectified in 2011 when the Gambling Ban Law was amended.
Nonetheless, the most powerful prohibition (Resolution No. 14 of January 6, 2010; an amendment of Resolution No. 1698 of November 14, 2000) was passed by the Cabinet of Ministers on January 6, 2010. The Resolution removed gambling from the list of businesses and economic activities that can be issued a license in Ukraine.
According to the law “On Prohibition of Gambling Business in Ukraine”, these forms of gaming are not considered gambling:
– Drawings (free, in form of competitions, or part of advertising)
– Any type of two-coordinate gambling machines called crane machines with material prizes
– Creative competitions
– Sporting events with monetary or property prizes
– Bowling, and similar games without prizes
– Broadcasted interactive quizzes (exclusively on channels with defined access)
Prior to the 2009 ban, there were roughly 40 casinos in Bulgaria spread throughout nine cities: Kiev, Lviv, Odessa, Donetsk, Zaporozhye, Poltava, Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk, and Chornomorsk (Illichivsk). Out of the 40 casinos, Kiev alone featured about 20 of them. Fast forward to 2018, and there are no longer any legal casinos in Ukraine.
As stated earlier, lottery games and poker are the only legal forms of gambling in Ukraine. Sports betting, casino gambling, pari-mutuel betting, bingo, online gambling, and others are completely illegal. And although online gambling is illegal, Ukrainian players can actually play on offshore gambling websites without any penalty or prosecution.
Pertaining lotteries, the Ukrainian National Lottery is a state monopoly under the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance, which offers Keno, Loto Triyka, and Super Loto both online and land-based. The company has seven branches: Kiev, Kharkov, Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk, Simferopol, Donetsk, and Lviv. Additionally, the Molod’SportLoto (successor of Sportloto, established in 1973) is another state monopoly that offers lottery games (such as Sportsprognoz and Megalot) in partnership with Scientific Games.
– For the legal forms of gambling, the minimum gambling age is 18 years.
– Casino gambling is illegal.
– Paid interactive quizzes that are broadcasted on radio and TV channels were restricted to channels with defined access on March 6, 2012, as signed by Viktor Yanukovych. Art and sports competitions and lotteries with monetary or property prizes were not included.
– In Kiev, the very first Ukrainian Gaming Congress was conducted at Radisson Blu Hotel on September 29, 2015. The congress was created to discuss all things gambling in Ukraine by unifying lawyers, gambling operators, hotel owners, government bodies, investors, and other experts from all European territories. CASEXE—an online casino software company—is one of the Ukrainian Gaming Congress’ sponsors. Programmes such as this are organised by the Ukraine Gaming Association: a nonprofit association geared towards bringing gambling back to Ukraine.
– Similar to the Ukrainian Gaming Congress, the very first Ukrainian Gaming Summit was organised in 2017 by the Ukrainian Association of the Gaming Industry (UGIA). While the Congress is organised for experts in Europe, the Summit welcomes attendees from all over the world.
– According to the draft law “On Gambling Organization and Maintenance of Gambling Activities in the Special Gambling Zones”, gambling should be allowed in hotels with at least 100 rooms and four-star rating, and complexes, nonresidential establishments, and ships registered in Ukraine with at least 500 sq metre of space.
– There are more than 150 gambling websites on which Ukrainian players can participate in any form of gambling.
– Molod’SportLoto is a member of the European State Lotteries and Toto Association.
– Even though casino gambling is completely illegal in Ukraine, there are numerous casinos and gambling halls in Kiev—even in the heart of the country’s capital. Most are large and offer poker and minuscule table games and gaming machines.