It’s often very difficult to know what to think about Belarus.
In the same week that the country launched a new crackdown on independent media and journalists, President Aleksander Lukashenko has nodded through a new law opening the country up to online gambling. The law, put forward in July by Sergei Nalivaiko, the minister for taxation, legalises and regulates online gambling, and will allow companies to use Belarus as a base for online casinos. This will be crucial given that access to international gambling sites which do not base their servers in Belarus will be blocked.
Online casino licences will only be granted to operators that deposit funds to a designated account, which will be used to cover any winnings or tax payments should the venture fail. Tax authorities will also have remote access to the site and all casinos will have to be connected to a special payment system for the monitoring of money flow. Mr Nalivaiko said that he expects to raise over five million euros from online gambling taxes in the first year. His original draft law also included a proposal to set up a state-run online casino. It remains unclear if that will go ahead.
The country’s move to legalise online gambling follows a raft of recent legislation which signalled a real shift in the country’s outlook. Laws covering cryptocurrencies and the digital economy have helped propel the country to the forefront of tech innovation in emerging Europe, while Belarus also last month extended the period visitors from most countries can stay visa free to 30 days, providing a huge boost for its fledgling tourist industry.
Then it goes and arrests more journalists.
One step forward, one step back, it would appear.