The Kazakhstani authorities have dismantled the nation’s largest network of illegal online casinos, which operated under the facade of lottery clubs.
Kazakh law enforcement conducted searches at 570 lottery clubs nationwide, the country’s Interior Ministry said in a statement Monday. More than 20 weapons were seized during the operation, as well as documents, computers and mobile phones.
Police said they also seized 247 million Kazakhstani tenge (US$545,811), 55 million Russian rubles ($614,380) and $125,000 in cash.
The operation resulted in the closure of 326 lottery clubs nationwide, and the identification and blocking of servers transmitting online casino broadcasts from abroad into Kazakhstan.
The Interior Ministry, in collaboration with the National Security Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office, also targeted “representatives of the criminal world involved in criminal influence and patronage of gambling establishments.”
The suspects not only “committed crimes against employees and clients of the lottery clubs,” but investigators also claim that security staff and administrators were involved in organizing special events for VIP clients, including “pimping and drug use.”
“As a result of the special operation, over 400 people were taken into police custody,” according to Kuandyk Alpysov, the head of the Interior Ministry’s Department for Combating Organized Crime. Those arrested included eight ringleaders, some of whom are foreign citizens.
Kazakh authorities have linked the illegal gambling network to a recent “wave of ludomania” or compulsive gambling which they claim has resulted in a decline in both social and material values across the Central Asian country.
Ludomania, they said, has led to a rise in divorces, suicides among gamblers, and various legal violations in Kazakhstan.
Citing official statistics, the ministry stated that the country has more than 350,000 gamblers, each with an average debt of approximately 10 million tenge ($22,098), and noted that gaming addiction is a significant social issue the government is intent on combating.