Transport authority leased more, not less, casino bars in metro, in spite of town hall ban

The Prague transport authority, Dopravní Podnik, has found itself in hot water with the municipal government, after it was discovered that the company has done nothing to fulfil town hall’s order to remove casino bars from the metro. Not only are the casinos still there, but the transport authority has even signed new contracts with some casinos since the restriction was made, some with leases of up to 13 years.

The Prague Town Hall made a priority of regulating the city’s huge number of casino bars – one of the highest in Europe per capita – in 2007, and it has continued to make the regulations more stringent ever since. Slot machines are now banned from 44 parts of Prague, including historical areas, areas near schools and municipal buildings and in metro vestibules. In the case of the latter, the company Dopravní podnik, or the Prague transport authority, had until the end of 2009 to terminate their contracts with the bar owners. However, as Czech Television recently reported, that ultimately only happened with one out of 20 contracts, while several new contracts were actually signed - some leaving casinos on solid turf until 2023. The transport authority’s spokesman Ondřej Pečený has said the company assumes responsibility for what is essentially a legal nightmare emerging from a previous logistical one:

“The problem it seems occurred because of big organisational changes; we somehow lost continuity regarding this issue, so it might have happened that we signed contracts by mistake. The problem is not only the three contracts that were signed between 2008 and 2009, but all of them. So we are now in hard negotiations with the providers and trying to settle new conditions for both sides.”

Some in the town hall though have very specific ideas about who bears the responsibility in this case, as Deputy Mayor Rudolf Blažek told Czech Television in reference to the general director of Prague Transport, Martin Dvořák.

Martin Dvořák
“The general director of the transport authority must clarify why he signed these contracts when he knows the city has been trying to regulate gambling in the city for more than three years now. It is not only since December that he has known about this problem, he’s known about it for half a year or a year.”

Now the company’s supervisory board will be looking at the issue and Mr Dvořák will be expected to say when the slot machines will be out of the metro vestibules definitively. However, the indication from at least one member of the supervisory board is that if the company cannot navigate a successful route through its many standing contracts with the casino bars, they will simply remain there until whenever their contracts finish, and for some that means the very distant future.