Gaming operators all set to cash in

  • 2001-07-05
  • Brent W. Walsh
VILNIUS - Potential investors are lining up and taking numbers to enter the new Lithuanian gaming market. Gambling operators are waiting for the state authorities to cut the bureaucratic red tape and finish nominating a commission that will be responsible for issuing licenses and supervising gambling establishments.

While prospective leaders in the gaming industry await four more appointments to the six-member commission, they have been purchasing salon and casino locations in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda and Palanga.

Gambling legislation has been awaiting the attention of Lithuania's Parliament since early this year. Initial legislation, passed in May, was amended in June and took force on July 1, 2001.

But until the governmental commission is finalized, companies will be left fanning themselves with their applications as they cannot apply for licensing. The waiting game has not slowed down preparations to begin business once final approval is granted. Olympic Casino, an international group with large operations in Estonia, ran a large employment classified in the June 30 edition of Lietuvos Rytas, Lithuania's largest daily newspaper.

According to Lietuvos Rytas, at least three Estonian casino operators recently reconfirmed plans to enter the Lithuanian market before the end of 2001.

There are currently 116 registered gambling salons in Estonia, with more than half of those located in Tallinn. Combined, these salons have more than 2,200 automatic gambling machines and the Benetreks Casino Group control nearly a quarter of them.

"(Benetreks Casino Group's) plans are to open nine slot-casinos and two table-casinos in Lithuania within the next two or three years. Our company, which will start operating in Lithuania will be a joint venture, financed by Austrian, Lithuanian and Estonian capital," said Armin Karu, the company's chairman.

The lucrative gambling industry is expected to attract strong competition among both existing international gambling operators like Benetreks and new firms which see an opportunity to grab a foothold in one of the few industries that constantly provides a guaranteed and predictable margin. A Vilnius-based firm, Grand Casino International, has made public plans to open a minimum of 10 Joker Club gambling halls.

According to Darius Kairys, director of Grand Casino International in Vilnius, the first gambling halls will feature automatic machines, while the table games of blackjack, poker and roulette will come with the creation of larger, upscale casinos in the future.

"The 10 Joker Club halls are the first step, after which we will step back and evaluate the general industry situation throughout Lithuania," said Kairys.

Kairys and Grand Casino International are pleased with the Parliament's adoption on June 28 of President Valdas Adamkus' anti-corruption amendments to the Lithuanian Gaming Law.

Under the amendments gaming operators will have to notify tax authorities of individual winnings of more than 30,0000 litas ($7,500).

Under the amendments to the law, visitors to gaming houses will be required to have personal identification documents.

Also, the government commission appointed to oversee the industry must approve the sale of a gaming operator and the issuance of a new license.

The Parliament also accepted an amendment proposed by MP Alvydas Sadeckas barring people carrying firearms to enter a gaming establishment.

"We are very pleased with the recently passed amendments and feel the Lithuanian government has done an admirable job in drafting effective legislation. Also, the legal articles requiring 30 percent of a gaming operator's authorized capital to be held in government bonds, securities and bank accounts, and the legal requirement of having a minimum of seven playing tables per casino location were both important stipulations," said Kairys.

Benetreks Casino Group's Karu is also pleased with the current Lithuanian law.

"There are certain questions that need to be specified more, but in general the law is quite strong and will prevent illegal operations," said Karu.

The Lithuanian Finance Ministry has predicted that 25 million litas could be raised per year through taxes on the gambling industry. This number could be a low estimate. Estonia, in comparison, saw its tax coffers increase last year by nearly $5 million in a country with only 40 percent of Lithuania's population base.