Prague council claims success in drive to shut down city’s gambling bars

Visitors to Prague often take away a couple of words of Czech, and ‘herna’ is very often one of them. The word, meaning ‘gaming bar’ is written all over the city, with nearly 1,500 hernas squeezed into the capital. In the last year, Prague City Council has pledged to close down a large number of these hernas - which have long been associated with money laundering and other forms of crime. City Hall is claiming that the results of its drive are starting to become apparent:

I’m sitting inside a ‘herna’ or gaming bar, which is not too common an occurrence for me – and which, if Prague Council has its way, will become a rarer thing still. On January 1 of this year, the council waged a war on these brilliant neon dens of iniquity, and according to those behind the initiative, the results are starting to show.

Prague City Hall moved in January to blacklist hernas located beside schools, in historic buildings, or in buildings owned by the local council. A total of 256 gaming bars were put down on the list for closure. And according to figures just released by the council, one year on, in some parts of town, up to a third of the bars blacklisted have already been shut.

To put the whole thing in context, the Czech Republic has one of the highest rates of slot machines in all of Europe – according to the newspaper Lidové noviny there is one machine per 170 Czechs, while in France the ratio is one machine per 18,000 inhabitants.

Councilors have said they don’t want Prague to become a European Las Vegas and are planning further steps to reduce the number of hernas even more, but what do inhabitants of the capital make of the plans? Are hernas part of their everyday life? Earlier I asked a few people in a bid to find out:

“No, no, no, because it is expensive for me and I don’t like this activity. It is not for me – I mean, you have to take your own money and put it in a machine! It is not for me at all.”

And does it bother you the number of hernas there are all over this city?

“Yes, maybe yes, because you know, they take our money – not my money, but other people’s money.”

“If I ever go to hernas? Sometimes, but I haven’t been for a while.”

And does it bother you how many hernas there are here in Prague?

“Yes, it’s kind of a little bit annoying. There are a lot of them. You know, I actually prefer to go to a casino if I want to play cards or something like that.”

“I don’t like it.”

Why not?

“I think they are dangerous, there could be some dangerous people in there, some drug users and so on.”

“If I go to hernas? Not at all. I don’t find them very interesting and I don’t have the time – there is nothing I would want to do in a herna. But the number of them doesn’t really bother me. I’m not interested; I haven’t been following how many there are, so I can’t answer your question.”

So it seems that the council’s plans to slash the number of hernas in the capital will be met with at best, enthusiasm, and at worst, apathy. The move is being most warmly welcomed by psychiatrists who suggest that there could be up to 300,000 people currently addicted to gambling in the Czech Republic.