More than ten police officers have been arrested and twelve casinos demolished in a crackdown on illegal gambling in Kosovo.
Hundreds of officers and security personnel descended on the village of Karachevo to perform a number of dawn raids, with chiefs claiming that this this was the ‘biggest operation of its kind’ ever to be carried out in the country.
The chief prosecutor, Jetish Maloku, revealed that at least 35 people have been arrested on suspicion of illegal gambling or running a prohibited establishment, as well as a series of drugs and firearms offences and the alleged trafficking of sex workers. He confirmed that at least ten of those arrested were border police with neighbouring Serbia, who were alleged to have helped facilitate the crimes
As well as the arrests, twelve casinos were demolished to the ground and a number of gaming tables and gambling equipment were seized in the raids.
It comes at the end of a year-long investigation into suspected illegal gambling activity – betting in any form has been banned for at least the next decade in Kosovo after a series of criminal incidents unfolded in 2019.
Double Murder Leads to Gambling Blackout
In March 2019, the Kosovan government issued an immediate ban on all forms of gambling after two casino workers were murdered in separate incidents – in one case, a police officer had been arrested in connection with the killing.
Ramush Haradinaj, the country’s prime minister of the time, introduced the legal bill that prohibits gambling – in part due to concerns over links to organised crime. He wanted to ‘strengthen public security’, and commented that ‘it is total chaos, a total abuse and it is good that we are stopping this’. “We will not allow these venues to be arenas of crime that claim people’s lives,” he continued.
Even prior to the new legislation, the Kosovan government had been cracking down on gambling in the country, with more than 400 gambling sites – thought to have been operating illegally – said to have been forcibly shut down prior to the changes in the law, and more than 100 slot machines confiscated.
Haradinaj has since lost his position as PM, replaced by the new coalition government’s representative Avdullah Hoti. He is yet to confirm or deny whether the anti-gambling regulations will be reconsidered.
The Scale of Gambling in Kosovo
While not exactly Las Vegas or Macau, gambling estate in Kosovo was key to the country’s economy.
More than €20 million was paid by casinos in tax every year, which for a nation that didn’t exist until 2008 – when they were granted independence from Serbia – is no small matter.
Unfortunately, Kosovo has earned a reputation as being politically unstable and – allegedly – corrupt at the highest levels of governance, and that has prevented the country from establishing itself via overseas investment.
To make matters worse, neighbouring Albania was also forced to prohibit gambling in 2019 after organised crime rings began to cause carnage in the Balkan nation.
When Kosovan ministers confirmed the betting ban, the Gambling Association of Kosovo claimed that more than 4,000 people were left jobless. As of March 2019, more than a third of all people in the country were unemployed.
Are All Forms of Gambling Banned in Kosovo?
As of March 2019 and the rule changes, all forms of gambling have been outlawed.
That pertains to land-based casinos and those operating online, with stringent new measures put in place to combat casino sites based offshore from allowing Kosovans to sign up and play.
Even sports betting has been banned in Kosovo, with the state controlled lottery now being the only form of gambling allowed in the country.