Anton Kuchukhidze: There should be NO populism in combating gambling addiction

Opponents of gambling legalization in Ukraine are raising their heads again. Shadow market players, populists and political losers are trying to use the issue of gambling addiction not to help people, but to promote their shady interests.

The arguments of those against gambling legalization looks weak when they talk about gambling addiction. Interestingly, this topic was widely covered by the media only after the reform to unshadow the gambling market took place. Which side are the populists on? It is easy to guess - they support shadow actors and political losers, but not the civilized state policy pursued in Ukraine.

These moral “fighters” were surprisingly silent for more than 11 years when the market was “closed”. They remained silent when more than 5 thousand illegal gambling halls existed without any public control. Why did they not want to protect users of gambling services? Why did these populists not want to come up with ways to help those people? Why did gambling halls where gamblers and children were invited to “play” stay open all this time? What were the obstacles then? Why was the conscience silent? Was it just easier to turn a blind eye on everything?

The State just started putting things in order, but here we are – the cries of moralists. Everyone somehow forgets that gambling must be legalized not only to increase budget revenues, but to protect citizens and fight corruption – a hint to “experts” talking so much about values.

Political demagogues say that almost half the country is gambling addicts. Any fact can be quantified. According to various official and insider data, during the first month of the official gambling market functioning, CRGL received 3 self-exclusion applications, and 4 applications were sent directly to gambling operators. These 4 requests were satisfied, and 3 people who applied to CRGL failed to go through the full application procedure.

Only 7 requests! Is this half the country? I do not look at the gambling industry through rose-tinted glasses, and the whole world, together with the legal gambling business, develops numerous projects to address gambling addiction and various social programs to prevent it among young people, and carry out various campaigns. That is, under the classic development scenario, this industry may exist only if the State, operators, and society are socially responsible.

Not a single state in the world, not a single legal gambling operator wants troubled persons to gamble, because they risk their business reputation and jeopardize the idea of socially responsible business as such.

Ukraine is no exception. Only shadow actors dare to enrich themselves at the expense of gambling addicts. Business is not looking for trouble, and the State needs an effective reform, not a massive social problem. That is why the special law has created protection mechanisms for people suffering from gambling addiction: now people can restrain themselves from gambling, or it can be done upon the request of first-degree family members, or through a court decision. During the “closure of the gambling business” such mechanisms simply did not exist. Today, the society just needs to learn to use these legal options.

Dear readers, if you know gambling addicts or those willing to exercise self-restraint, or if you suspect one of your loved ones can’t behave properly in legal gambling establishments, then you can contact the Gambling Commission or legal gambling operator, and it will be done – this person will be excluded from gambling.

Gambling addiction is a problem of human nature, and usually people do not shout about illnesses or psychological disorders. Adequate reaction is to deal with them, work to solve the problem and get better. For those who want media to obsess over gambling addiction, my advice would be to keep their humanity: professionals with a reputation do not get rich at the expense of people with problems, and it is better to help a person having relevant questions. That’s how you can demonstrate social responsibility, and not chant fake slogans.

Anton Kuchukhidze, Chairman of the Ukrainian Gambling Council, exclusively for the “Ukrainian News”

Anton Kuchukhidze