An outright ban on gambling in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, has been overturned but it comes at a price.
Why did Bratislava outlaw gambling?
It all started in early 2017 when a petition was circulated among citizens of Bratislava that called for a complete ban on gambling in the city. More than 130,000 people signed it.
This led to a number of votes in the Regional Court, although it got slightly more complicated there. At first, in February 2017, councilors were ruling not on the ban itself but the way it was introduced. The ban failed to get enough votes.
However, when they convened again in late March, an absolute ban on gambling was passed. It was to come into force at the beginning of May 2017.
What is this new ruling?
Well, the news on the original ban hit the city’s 150 gambling outfits hard. On their behalf, the Association of Entertainment and Gambling (AZAH) asked the Regional Court to look at the ruling again last week.
The court ruled that the ban did not comply with the law and, in fact, gaming houses did not need to close and could continue operating inside the capital.
Needless to say, the city wasn’t happy. Mayor Ivo Nesrovnal believes that the will of the people has been ignored. He said: “The wishes of 136,000 Bratislavans, as well as all opponents of gambling in our city, have been trampled,” in response to the verdict.
Although the current verdict has excluded the possibility of a repeat vote, the Mayor is determined that the city will take the case to the Supreme Court.
What damage has been done?
Remember that the original ruling came into force last month in May, and already over 50 gambling houses have closed their doors. It remains to be seen whether the new decision will get them to open them again.
The Association of Entertainment and Gambling (AZAH) responded to the verdict by saying that it is sad that this issue had to end up in court and that the city does not have sensible regulations controlling gambling.
They also cited a national law that came into effect in January, which introduced minimum distances between gambling venues and schools, medical centers, and healthcare facilities.
No “Las Vegas” in Bratislava
Dominika Lukáčová of the AZAH was quoted as saying: “Even though gambling continues to be legal, there will be no Las Vegas in Bratislava.”
Nationwide, the law is expected to reduce the number of video lottery terminals in the market by 60%, to around 1,500.
The Ministry of Finance recently introduced a more radical overhaul of Slovakia’s gambling legislation. However, its focus is primarily on opening the online market, and the law would do nothing to restrict the powers of city mayors over land-based venues.
Indeed, Dr. Robert Skalina is a Czech advocate and senior advisor for Malta-based law-firm WH Partners. He said of the decision: “Any regulation by a municipality banning gambling on its territory would stay in place even after the new Gambling Act becomes effective. As such, if Bratislava manages to appeal successfully against the judgment and the regulation is reinstated, or if the city manages to adopt new regulations based on a new public petition, it will stay in place.”
There seems to be a correlation between Bratislava and Riga in Latvia: Only last month, Olympic Entertainment Group (OEG) was fighting to keep hold of their casino in the Latvian capital. Unfortunately, it lost its challenge, despite operating 7 out of the 42 halls.
It is now expected to take the fight higher to determine whether it will have to close in October 2022 as ruled.