Embattled Ukraine Opens New Front In Gambling War Against Alleged Russian Agents

A new front has opened in Ukraine’s secretive and little reported parallel war against alleged Russian gambling interests in the embattled nation.

Following the sanction last month of Parimatch, the biggest and best known iGaming company in Ukraine, the country’s Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries–known by its Cyrillic alphabet acronym, KRAIL–has now suspended two state lotteries: The instant-win lottery ‘Catch the Moment’ and the numerical-draw lottery ‘Penalty’.

No reasons were given for the suspensions, which Ukrainian state media sources confirmed had been instigated on March 24.

Previously Parimatch iGaming operations were shut down by state emergency edict for alleged financial complicity with Russian “interests” and “schemes”.

Now headquartered in Cyprus, Parimatch has ongoing sponsorship deals with four top flight UK football clubs Aston Villa, Chelsea, Leicester City and Newcastle.

It has strenuously denied having continuing links with Ukraine’s Russian invaders.

“We terminated our Russian franchise last March [2022] following the country’s invasion of Ukraine and [since then] we have donated money to help women and children survive the war,” the company said in a refutary statement.

“We [are] a victim of a planned campaign by the Security Service of Ukraine. We demand a review of the decision.”

Parimatch joined a list covering 287 businesses and 120 individuals alleged to be Russian proxies, and who had their Ukrainian assets frozen by the National Security and Defence Council, headed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Among them were BetCity, Bet.ru, First International Bookmaking Company, Matchbet, Sportbet and Sportloto.

Russian Proxies

“The entities [have] withdrawn money from the nation and have financed Russian schemes,” the council said in a statement.

“These are more than 280 companies and 120 people who, through gambling business schemes, [have] worked against Ukraine. “It [has] taken some time to prepare the decision. [But] it has been thoroughly worked out and closes schemes worth tens of billions.”

In December last year KRAIL terminated the licences of three iGaming operators who they said were controlled by Russian interests.

KRAIL claimed that the three iGaming operators–Alphagame LLC, Joker LLC and Play Fan Investment LLC–had breached the terms of Ukraine’s 2020 gambling laws by “submitting inaccurate information in their documents”.

These terms–specifically designed to target Russia’s illegal, 2014, annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula–were designed to prove that investors and operators did “not act in the interests of residents of foreign countries that carry out armed aggression against Ukraine, and/or whose actions create conditions for the emergence of a military conflict and the use of military force against Ukraine, and/or establishing the fact of such control over the activities of gambling organisers”.

Any ties between operators and Russian individuals are grounds for the termination of a licence, warned KRAIL.

“[We] emphasise the need to strictly comply with the provisions of the current legislation of Ukraine [and the illegality] of any ties between the organisers of gambling games and states carrying out armed aggression against Ukraine,” the commission stressed.

“Following the Russian invasion in February [2022] the key priority of the commission is the isolation of Russia from the gambling sphere.”

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