Ukraine Soldier’s Petition May Lead to Online Casino Ban

The ongoing war in Ukraine has resulted in death, destruction and heightened geopolitical tensions. However, it has also reportedly spurred an increase in online gambling, and stricter regulation could be coming as a result.

Ukraine Soldier’s Petition May Lead to Online Casino Ban

It began when a soldier on the front lines of Ukraine’s war against Russia’s invasion complained that online gambling was sapping the morale of the troops. His petition to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may lead to the ban for the military of something that critics worldwide have called “the crack cocaine of gambling,” Euromaidan Press reported March 30.

The petition by serviceman Pavlo Petrychenko of the 59th Brigade gathered 26,000 signatures in a day on the website of the president’s office. By law, any petition that gathers 25,000 signatures must be brought to the attention of the president.

President Zelenskyy paid attention. He has ordered the gathering of data by the Security Service of Ukraine, the State Special Communications Service, the Ministry of Digital Transformation and the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council on how many online gaming platforms there are in the country and how many people are gambling on them.

Then, on April 2 in a national address, the president announced a tightening of control over the online gaming sector: “We are preparing corresponding steps which will increase control over the industry and help to protect the interests of the society.” Article 93 of the Constitution of Ukraine gives the president the right to initiate bills in parliament.

The nation’s National Bank reports that residents spent almost UAH 150 billion ($3.9 billion) in gambling last year. Many of these players are in the military, who, while being well paid, are also subject to extreme stress combined with long periods of boredom, which in some ways is a perfect recipe for gambling losses.

In his petition, Petrychenko wrote: “Military personnel have been away from their families for the third year, in stressful conditions and without the possibility of full rest, so they are especially psychologically vulnerable. For many of them, gambling becomes the only way to cope with stress, and therefore, quickly causes dopamine addiction and weakens their self-control.”

He wrote of cases of soldiers spending all their income on games and taking out microloans. “This leads to putting themselves and their families in a ‘debt trap’ or pawning drones and thermal imagers, thereby harming not only themselves but also their comrades,” he wrote.

The petition asks the president to put forward a bill to prohibit gambling and access to online gaming for the military during martial law. It also calls for banning gaming advertising using symbols of the military or symbols associated with the war.

The proposed ban would extend to preventing charities from collaborating with gambling and forbidding fighting units from accepting contributions from gambling market participants. This is to prevent gambling sites from “whitewashing” what they do with “small charitable donations,” according to the petition. For good measure it would exhort internet providers to block illegal casino sites.

Critics point out that soldiers who gamble and enter personal data on gambling sites are vulnerable to being suborned to betray their country to the Russians.

To prevent them from selling military hardware to finance their gambling, the bill would also prohibit pawn shops from accepting drones, thermal imagers and other equipment that have military uses.

Gambling was illegal in Ukraine between 2009-2020. The sector paid Hr 10.4 billion ($267 million) in taxes last year.

The authorities have been ramping up their enforcement against black market gambling sites.

In 2023 several laws came on the books giving the police more tools to fight such sites. One of these outlined procedures to combat money laundering and counter-terrorist financing by subjecting operators to more inspections.

Another law made it harder for financial institutions to lend money to players who have self-excluded from playing in casinos.

The country’s existing gambling authority KRAIL has come under increasing criticism. Last May Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov proposed dissolving it and replacing it with a stronger commission that could process gambling licenses without so many delays.

It hasn’t helped that KRAIL can only function when five of the seven members are present, and five of them are serving in the armed forces following the 2022 invasion.