Lithuania's first casino opens its doors

  • 2002-03-07
  • Gabriele Vasiliauskaite
KLAIPEDA - Following last July's lifting of a nationwide gambling ban Lithuania's first casino has opened for business in the sea port city of Klaipeda.

Players at the Nese Hotel's casino can choose from four gambling tables, three of them for card games and one for roulette.

Some 20 croupiers are on hand to assist up to 30 players at a time in a classic English style casino setting.

Kazys Paulikas, Nese's owner, has spent the last few months visiting casinos in Las Vegas and talking to Belgian consultants in an effort to ensure the project's success.

Work is continuing on construction of two halls in central Klaipeda which will contain a total of 70 gaming machines. The first of these is due to open on April 1 and soon Nese hopes to have 10 more salons in Vilnius, Neringa and Palanga.

The opening night at the casino on March 1 proved popular although nobody bagged the maximum potential pay-out of 1.2 million litas ($300,000).

The gaming machines are likely to be more of a money spinner than the casino, says Paulikas. The latter, he says, "is a matter of prestige."

"People will be coming here not only to gamble but also to spend their leisure time."

Despite concerns about encouraging gambling when it became legal last year, the Nese casino has met with little criticism in Klaipeda.

Residents questioned in a rough survey by The Baltic Times were unanimous in saying they would not let the opportunity to gamble go to their heads.

Romandas, a 25-year-old Klaipeda resident, said the casino would enhance the city's attractiveness to visitors, but insisted, "I won't be going myself, I am not a gambling person."

Asta, 27, pointed out that opportunities to gamble illegally have existed in the city for years.

"I won't go because I have no spare money and this form of amusement doesn't charm me at all, although I might try my luck on the 1 litas slot machine," she said.

Janina, 47, said she doubted the casino would last long.

"I would go there myself, but I wouldn't play roulette or cards - I'm not a gambling person, but I'd like to have a go on the slot machines," she said.

But Nese's casino will not have long to wait before competitors start nipping at its heels.

Last month two gambling halls were opened in Vilnius by Estonia's Olympic Casino Group Baltija, owner of the Baltic states' biggest casino, the Park Hotel and Casino in Tallinn, and owner of 12 gambling halls in Estonia.

The company plans more gambling halls and to open a casino in August.

Another potential competitor is Bronislovas Lubys, owner of Jonava Achema and the Klaipeda stevedoring company Klasco, and one of the richest people in Lithuania.

Gambling licenses have been issued to Casino Capital, which is partly owned by Klasco subsidiary Palangos Vetra and partly by Casino Poland World, which is registered in Holland.

Casino Planet plans to open casinos in Vilnius' former planetarium building and in Lubys' Vetra Hotel in Palanga this year.

Meanwhile an as yet unidentified Latvian enterprise is planning a casino in Lithuania's second largest city, Kaunas, and is advertising for croupiers to work at the city's Los Patrankos night club.

While casinos have been legal in all countries bordering on Lithuania for many years the tough anti-gambling stance of the country's Catholic Church prevailed until last July, when the then Liberal/Social Liberal government decided to ignore the church's concerns.

The current Social Democrat/Social Liberal government has rejected calls to reverse that policy.