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Kazakhstan to banish all gambling to two towns

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Monday November 13, 2006

Moscow- It sounds like a scene from the Borat movie. Amid drives to ban cars with steering wheels on the right-hand side and stamp out bad press from British comic Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat film, Kazakhstan announced Wednesday it would restrict all gambling in the country to two towns, Kapshagai and Shchuchinsk.

Starting January 1, 2007, all casinos, roulette tables, bookmakers and slot parlours will be forced to pack up and move either to Kapshagai, in the Central Asian steppe nation's south-west, or Shchuchinsk, in the north.

The legislation, passed Monday in the country's National Security Council, needs only the signature of autocratic Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and approval from the rubber-stamp legislature.

Nazarbayev has already signalled that the parliament should speed up its discussion of the bill.

But in Kazakhstan - home to Cohen's character, a post-Soviet, pre-Enlightenment, racist, misogynistic reporter - gambling is no joke.

The country of 15,000,000 is home to over 2,200 gaming halls and casinos. The United States has about 2,500 casinos for its 300,000,000 residents.

"Gambling mania, which for our society is a bane like drug addiction, will finally leave our families," Kazakh Finance Minister Natalya Korzhova said Wednesday in remarks carried by Russia's Interfax news agency.

Korzhova said it was necessary to preserve the "moral appearance" of Kazakhstan's youth if the country was to continue to progress economically, referring to Nazarbayev's objective of making his country one of the 50 most attractive for investment.

Figures released Monday by the Kazakh state statistics service showed investment up nearly 20 per cent on the year as the government in Astana benefits from ever-growing estimates of the country's oil reserves.

With petrodollars flowing in and little history of personal financial savings or investment, gambling has racked other former Soviet republics flush with cash and a desire to spend it.

The brightest lights along Moscow's Tverskaya Ulitsa, one of the most fashionable streets in the ex-Soviet capital, come from slot parlors with names like Jackpot. Ubiquitous gambling paraphernalia in Russia haul in an estimated 6 billion US dollars each year.

Kazakhstan's legislation, in fact, follows proposals in Moscow to cast Russia's gambling venues into four cities, spread across the country.

While the parliament in Moscow is still debating that legislation, the traditionally Muslim Russian regions of Tatarstan and Chechnya have passed their own laws keeping gambling halls out of city centres.

In Russia, the bill could be stuck in the parliament as powerful lobbying groups protest. But in Nazarbayev's Kazakhstan, slot machine operators may have more reason to fear.

"Businessmen working in this sphere should understand this clearly if they're going to continue in this line," Korzhova, the Kazakh finance minister, said. "Or they can move their activities to other areas."

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency