ZURICH, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Liechtenstein, renowned for its alpine scenery and castles, also stands out for a more down-to-earth tourist attraction, casinos.
Six currently operate in the microstate of just 40,000 people, earning it the nickname “Las Vegas of the Alps” among punters, who arrive from neighboring Germany, Switzerland and Austria to try their luck.
Open since 2017 after a change in the law legalized gambling, they will all have to close if supporters of the ban on casinos submitted to a referendum on January 29 achieve their ends.
Critics say the gambling industry risks damaging the reputation of the country, which was on an international blacklist of tax havens until it began relaxing bank secrecy laws more than a decade ago. years.
The referendum, and the signatures needed to make it possible, were launched by lobby group IG VolksMeinung, which says it is fighting the “casino deluge”.
“We don’t want to establish ourselves as a beacon for casinos and poker in the middle of Europe,” said one of its members, Guido Meier, during a debate on the referendum.
“It’s a big reputational issue,” he said.
If the ban wins in the referendum, the casinos will have to close within five years.
Major international gaming operators are behind some of Liechtenstein’s casinos, including Austria’s Novomatic AG, whose sister company Gryphon Invest AG indirectly owns majority stakes in half of the principality’s gambling houses.
“We hope voters will heed the advice of the two main parties, as well as the economic chamber and other institutions, and recognize that a well-regulated market is better than an outright ban,” Gryphon told Reuters in a statement.
Casinos Austria International CASATI.UL, which also owns a casino, did not respond to requests for comment.
“What we are doing is in accordance with the law and in some cases even exceeds the level required by law,” said Liechtenstein Casino Association Chairman and Grand Casino Director Reinhard Fischer. which refutes the argument that the sector poses a threat to the country’s reputation.
Casinos generated 50 million Swiss francs (50.4 million euros) in taxes in Liechtenstein in 2022.
“These are certainly revenues that are also relevant for our budget,” said Sabine Monauni, Liechtenstein’s deputy head of government, who encouraged people to vote against banning casino activity.
(Report Noele Illien; French version Diana Mandiá, edited by Blandine Hénault)
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Liechtenstein to vote on casino ban
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