There are already 16 companies in Lithuania that hold gaming licenses, 12 of which have begun to operate. The largest is Estonia's Olympic Casino Group, which posted 13.5 million litas in revenues in the first three quarters of 2003 and operates the casino at the Reval Lietuva Hotel.
On the pinnacle watching over this rapidly growing industry is watchdog Blazys, a towering man with the pleasant manners, neat attire and the steely eyes of a former police commissioner and interior minister. He was about to retire before President Valdas Adamkus invited him to take his present job in 2001.
He says that the first six months were spent putting together a team of regulatory specialists who could handle the licensing and technical aspects required by the new law.
"I can say that we were pleasantly surprised to find a commission that is very, very stringent in an industry that is so new and young," Soo says, adding that GCC's governance policy requires that strong legislation exist in any country where it becomes involved.
To obtain a gaming license in Lithuania an investor needs to set up a corporation that is not involved in any other business besides gaming. The minimum investment required for a casino (which includes, for example, roulette wheels and card tables) is 4 million litas, while the minimum necessary to operate a slot machine parlor is 1 million litas.
In Lithuania, state revenue takes the form of a fixed gaming device tax. Corporations pay 12,000 litas each fiscal quarter for every single card and roulette table. "A" category slot machines (those with no maximum payout) cost 1,800 litas per quarter, and "B" category ones (those with a 200 litas maximum) cost less at 600 litas.
Today the gaming commission oversees nine casinos, 15 slot-machine salons, 50 betting shops and one bingo hall. Lithuania presently has 94 gaming tables, 450 "A" category slot machines and 200 "B" category in the country.
In the first nine months of 2003 the government took in 5.7 million litas from equipment taxes and 575,000 litas in paperwork fees.
"A lot of people in this country find the very idea of entering a casino intimidating," says Arune Stirblyte, marketing director for Casino Planet, a Polish-Lithuanian joint venture that operates one of the smaller casinos in Vilnius.
"They almost think there is someone at the door waiting to take their money. But I'm not allowed to encourage the public to go into a casino, as it would get me in trouble [with the gaming commission]."
And there's the rub. Casinos and gaming houses are restricted in the amount and type of advertising they are allowed, as their business is considered "non-promotable" in accordance to the law.
Still, casinos need more than just black-jack tables and slots to attract clients, many of whom want to eat and be entertained between games. But since they are restricted from engaging in any other business, Great Canadian Casinos' way of working around the law was to find a local partner to handle entertainment venues built into the same property. As a result, Grand Casino World presently includes a nightclub and Japanese restaurant operated independently by Tadas Karosas, the man behind the Cili Pica food chain.
"Gambling time is entertainment time," Soo says.