Kosovo Issues 10-Year Ban on Betting Shops after 2 Gambling Murders
After two casino staff members were murdered in two separate incidents in the past week, the Republic of Kosovo banned all gambling in the country of the next ten years. Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said only a state-controlled lottery would be allowed to operate in the coming years.
Kosovo is a tiny nation of 1.8 million in Southeastern Europe’s Balkan peninsula. The country declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. In a story about the killings, The Guardian describe Kosovo as rife “with political instability, crime, and corruption” that tends to keep investors away.
A Kosavar police officer has been charged in one of the murders, but authorities have not been filed in the second murder.
Prime Minister Haradinaj said the decision to ban gambling was a matter of public security. He stated, “We will not allow these venues to be arenas of crime that claim people’s lives.”
Kosovo Gambling Industry Outraged
Members of Kosovo’s gambling industry were outraged by the ban. Ruzhdi Kosumi, who owns 14 betting shops and employs 40 workers in his networks of gaming venues, said the ban targets the victims — not the perpetrators.
Mr. Kosumi said, “The decision to close us was taken after two of our workers were killed. This is nonsense. We lost people and now we are losing our jobs.”
The Gambling Association of Kosovo said 4,000 people are employed in the nation’s gambling industry, which has increased noticeably in the years since independence. The loss of 4,000 jobs in a population of less than two million is significant.
Kosovar Police Close 470 Betting Shops
Even before the ban, Kosovar police had boarded up most of the 470 gambling venues in the country. The Republic of Kovoso reports that it collects €20 million (£17 million) in taxes each year from gambling. It does not release numbers on the amount collected on lottery and the amount collected from betting shops.
In January, the nearby Republic of Albania announced a ban on gambling. At the time, Albania’s leaders said they wanted to ban gambling to limit social problems such as problem gaming and povery. Albania also claimed it wanted to undermine organized crime.
Do Gambling Bans Work?
Such bans take note of the rapid rise of a gambling culture, both in Albania and Kosovo. At the same time, they fail to see the reason gambling expands at such a rapid rise in 5 or 10 short years — the popularity of gambling among everyday people.
Nationwide bans on popular activities do not end the problem, but drive it underground. Like the Prohibition Era’s ban on alcohol lead to the rise of the American mafia and the War on Drugs led to the vast wealth of the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, a comprehensive ban on Kosovo’s legal gambling industry will drive gambling underground.
Many of the residents who gambled at those 470 betting shops will stop gambling, but many others will not. Instead, they will make wagers at underground gambling shops, thus increasing the resources and influence of organized crime in Kosovo.
Prime Minister Criticizes Gambling Shops
Ramush Haradinaj disagrees with that analysis. Kosovo’s prime minister said of his country’s gambling industry, “It is total chaos, a total abuse and it is good that we are stopping this.”
Kosovo was part of the former Yugoslavia from the end of World War I until the end of the Cold War. Even as Serbians fought to maintain control over Croatia (1991-1995) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), unrest began to build in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. After the horrors against the Muslim population in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Bosnian Serbs and their allies in Serbia, Kosovans did not want to face similar ethnic cleansing.
In 1996, locals formed the Kosovo Liberation Army. It was only months after the Dayton Accords ended strife in the other former Yugoslav republics, so peace held between 1996 and 1998 — despite growing tension. Clashes broke out in early 1998, but a NATO-brokered ceasefire happened in October 1998.
When the Racak massacre, a mass killing of 45 Kosovans by Serbian forces, occurred in January 1999, the US-led NATO coalition decided the killings would not stop without peacekeepers inserted. This led to the Rambouillet Accords talks which would allow NATO peacekeepers to enter Kosovo. When Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosovic broke off talks on March 23, it led to US-led NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia.
While the bombing campaign continued for 2-and-1/2 months, Yugoslavian forces slaughtered thousands of Kosovars. Eventually, the two sides signed the Kumanovo Agreement and Resolution 1244 created the Kosovo Force (KFOR) to protect the people of Kosovo.
Kosovo would have local autonomy under Resolution 1244, but the conflict never really ended. Insurgencies on the border with Albania and Macedonia continued in the next few years. Nationalist sentiment grew in Kosovo. At the outbreak of war, roughly 250,000 Serbian Kosovars lived in Kosova. Many fled in the conflict, but thousands remained and Kosovars launched reprisals. The economy was a shambled due to the war, which led to sociopolitical problems.
Negotiations for a settlement continued until 2006-2007, but Russia held a UN veto over any final treaty. Vladimir Putin refused to sanction any agreement not accepted in both Belgrade and Pristina, but the UN Security Council eventually discarded efforts to bring about a resolution. AAfter a ‘Troika’ of negotiators from the US, Russia, and EU failed to make progress, Kosovo signaled it would declare independence. The US and EU signaled they would recognize Kosovo’s independence, while Russia refused to grant recognition.
Kosovo declared independence on December 3, 2008. Ten years later, 113 UN nations have recognized Kosovar independence, including all its immediate neighbors but Serbia. Kosovo is a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, but not the United Nations. The Brussels Agreement of 2013 allowed Serbians living in Kosovo to have their own police force and court system. These days, North Kosovo is Serbian-dominated and largely controlled by Belgrade’s decisions. Though Kosova is 95% Muslim, it is a secular republic with a multi-party system.
Kosovo has a transitional economy. Since independence, the economy has grown over 5% every year with a low inflation rate. It has a workforce around 800,000 people. The electricity sector is a source of growth, while the country has large reserves of lead, zinc, silver, nickel, copper, and iron. Kosovo’s lignite reserves are 5th in the world.
53% of the land is used for agriculture, which produces corn, wheat, pastures, and vineyards. The wine industry is successful and growing. Tourism is substantial due to the mountain, lakes, and canyons untouched by developement. The Brezovica ski report is a favorite destination of winter tourists.