Online casinos were banned along with other forms of gambling in 2009 as a result of unfavourable legislation passed that year. Someone not very tuned in to the international gambling industry would probably assume this means there are no online casinos in Ukraine. That would be dead wrong as far as Ukraine goes.
The situation in Ukraine resembles the situation in many other countries that have gone the prohibition route: online casinos are banned in theory but remain popular and accessible in practice. This occurs because there are no laws on the books that target players, and the government has so far decided not to block access to online casinos hosted in other countries.
The end result is that Ukrainian casino sites remain alive and well. In fact, most of the largest international operators (including quite a few hosted in the UK where online gambling is legal) continue to accept Ukrainian customers to this day.
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It really is as simple as choosing a casino website and signing up for an account. As we will explain shortly, Ukrainian law is actually quite permissive in practice. It is not legal to be in the business of gambling, but there is nothing stopping you from visiting an online casino in Ukraine as a mere player.
However, the Ukrainian hryvnia is still not widely accepted as a default currency for deposits and withdrawals. This is not a major problem; you can still initiate deposits with your credit card or any number of e-wallets and the casino will perform a currency conversion to Euros or GBP on your behalf. When you withdraw, the casino will perform another exchange back into hryvnia so you can claim your winnings.
The one “catch” to online gambling in Ukraine is there is currently no regulatory body to monitor Ukrainian casino sites and ensure they play by the rules, pay out winnings, offer fair games and so on. It is up to us players to do our research and ensure we stick with reputable online casinos.
We have found in our experiences that the best options for people in Ukraine and any other country with similar gaming laws is to visit casinos that are licensed in countries that do actually regulate online gambling. For example, we can visit nearly all the major UK casino sites from here in Ukraine to take advantage of the oversight provided by the UK’s highly-respected Gambling Commission.
A law called “On Prohibition of Gambling Business in Ukraine” initiated a complete ban on gambling operations in Ukraine back in 2009. The ban eliminated all gambling across Ukraine and remains in effect today. Those found organizing gambling games for Ukrainians are subject to significant financial penalties.
The law went into effect shortly after a fire tore through a slots hall in Dnipropetrovsk that resulted in the deaths of 10 people in early May, 2009. Viktor Bondar, the Head of Dnipropetrovsk Regional Administration at the time, declared an immediate shutdown of all gaming halls, nightclubs and casinos in the area until the cause of the fire could be determined. His action would soon be copied at the federal level.
Within days, Ukrainian parliament adopted a prohibition law and sent it to President Yushchenko. The president vetoed the bill on the grounds that it would put hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians out of work immediately. Parliament overruled the president’s veto and “On Prohibition of Gambling Business in Ukraine” became the law of the land.
The Dnipropetrovsk fire was a terrible tragedy, but it merely served as the impetus for a prohibition that had been sought after by some Ukrainian lawmakers at the time. Even before the fire, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko had been pushing for a ban on casinos in Ukraine.
Lax regulations had resulted in upwards of 100,000 “gaming salons” operating across the country by 2009. The very visible growth of gambling combined with an economic recession at the time lent strength to Yulia Tymoshenko’s movement to end gambling in Ukraine. She was once quoted to say that the growth of gambling was “demoralising Ukraine’s youth and sucking the last savings from families.”
The fire, which was later deemed by preliminary investigations to have been caused by a faulty slot machine and the casino’s violations of fire regulations, was the last straw. It painted the industry in exactly the same light as Tymoshenko had been describing it – shady, seedy and unsafe.
Local operators managed to find a legal loophole in the 2009 prohibition that allowed them to continue to operate online if they moved their gaming servers off Ukrainian soil. The operators managed to stay in business and continue to accept wagers from Ukrainians until amendments to the law in 2011 put an end to that. Ever since, Ukraine has not had legally sanctioned casino sites.
The Return of Ukrainian Online Casinos?
When we speak of “Ukrainian” casino sites in the context of this article, what we’re actually referring to are casinos located in other countries that serve Ukrainians. However, is there a chance we get a return of actual Ukrainian-owned and operated online casinos? The answer to that question seems to be ever-so-slowly shifting to “yes, eventually.”
In December of 2015, the Ministry of Finance proposed a draft bill of a law that seeks to legalize and regulate casinos sites, brick-and-mortar casinos and sports betting. The latest version of the bill would create a national gambling regulator that would have the authority to license online casinos and other gambling operations.
The latest version of the bill would require entities looking for a license to be located on Ukrainian territory and have at least €2 million in liquid capital. The draft also proposes a €1.5 million licensing fee for online casinos.
The bill was posted on the Ministry of Finance website in December of 2015, but we have yet to see any real action on the bill. Even so, the mere fact that a government body has shown an interest in regulating online gambling in Ukraine is promising.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.