Brno NGO launches petition to press government on gambling

A loosely-knit association of doctors, prominent personalities and civic leaders has come together under the umbrella of an anti-gambling group calling itself Stop Hazard. They have put together a petition which seeks to pressure the government into passing new legislation to curb the number of slot-machines and other gambling venues in the country.

Gambling in the Czech Republic is a big business, and some say, an even bigger problem. Casinos and so-called “hernas” or gambling centres are dotted around almost every town and city in the Czech Republic. Czechs gamble an estimated 100 billion crowns in around 200 casinos and thousands of gambling centres each year - and reports suggest that this is causing a multitude of negative side-effects. Firstly, there is the cost to families from gambling addiction. A second cost is the criminal activities that these enterprises often are privy to. From money-laundering to mob activity, the Czech Republic has seen it all. Now, a NGO has come together to attempt to push the government to address this problem. Jasna Flamíková is a key member of the Stop Hazard group. I asked her to explain what the initiative is seeking to achieve:

Jasna Flamíková
“We want a law that will reduce the accessibility to gambling; we also want owners to lose their licenses if they are found to be allowing children to gamble. We want local governments to have the power to choose if they want these establishments on their streets and we want to outlaw the non-stop 24 hour operation of these premises.”

The organization is also lobbying for progressive taxation of gambling and transparency over how a percentage of profits are used for the public benefit. At present, gambling establishments are obliged by law to give some of their profits for the “public good,” but, according to Ms Flamíková, they often just set up their own foundations or charities, and the money ends up disappearing.

Clearly, the organization has is quite a shopping list, and one that perhaps underlines how serious the problem has become in the country. At present, many prominent individuals have lent themselves to the campaign, from doctors and psychiatrists, to local government representatives. However, prior attempts by the government to address this problem have come to nothing – many believe that this is partly attributable to the immense lobbying power that the gambling industry holds over the Czech government. So just how serious is the situation in comparison with other countries? Jasna Flamíková again:

“It is a grave problem about which there hasn’t yet been much discussion. In all other European countries, and in most developed countries across the world, there is far more regulation of these industries than there is here. I read somewhere that we have the most slot-machines per inhabitant in the world. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that studies suggest that there are 170 people for each slot machine in this country – in Germany the figure is 500 and in France 18,000 – these are extraordinarily varying numbers.”

Yet in the current political climate, in which regulation is often viewed as undesirable for ideological reasons, coupled with corruption and ineffectiveness, the chances of any strict measures such as those that Stop Hazard is advocating being passed seems remote. But the cultural impact remains undeniable - this week, a young Czech man is standing trial for beating to death his own grandmother with a hammer – the reason? He was burgling her house looking for money to fund his gambling addiction. An extreme example, certainly - but also a powerful reminder of just how serious a problem gambling can become.