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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gambler's Blues

Sofia Mizante c/o

This summer, Russia closed down all casinos and gaming parlors and exiled them to Siberia. Armenia has also passed a law moving casinos to regions far from the capital. Meanwhile Azerbaijan and Turkey forbid legalized gambling. A few years ago in Abkhazia, a developer tried to open a casino to a backlash of civil disapproval. Gambling, the public said, would only bring disaster to the mostly indigent population, who would get hooked on the quick fix attraction of games of chance. They fought the developer by petitioning parliament and won.

For Georgia, the gaming industry is a welcomed source of revenue and brought $10 mil. into coffers last year. Yet, this economic asset is also a social liability as many Georgians become addicted to gambling. This in turn leads to a deterioration of family relationships and is often connected to other forms of dependency such as alcohol and drugs. But because Georgia is so far behind in the treatment of addictions and no studies have been done on the effects of gambling, the problem goes unrecognized and untreated.

I've heard plenty of stories of people losing their homes from gambling debts, or of families who have had to bail out a family member by selling their home. Friends tell me of well-known public figures they have loaned money to for gambling debts and an opiate using neighbor tells of his almost wins at the casino one day, and asks me to loan him a 20 the next. In Georgia, gambling is only a problem when you lose.

"You want to know why the Georgian football team is so bad?" my friend, a former director of a Tbilisi casino said several years ago. "Because the owners are losing money at my casino all the time."

You can read the story I did with my pal Sofia Mizante for Eurasianet HERE.