The Ministry of Finance has new ideas for clamping down on slot machines: a system allowing citizens to tip off customs officials about machines’ whereabouts, more inspections and social campaigns at petrol networks.
On November 16, Chrzanów police, accompanied by customs officials from Krakow, uncovered and secured ten low-stakes slot machines from two outlets in Chrzanów. That same day, customs officers in Kielce had to call a locksmith in order to access an arcade which was supposedly housed slot machines. Two days earlier, Otwock police, accompanied by customs officials, seized 11 slot-machines. On every instance, the customs officials had to confirm that they found the machines where they suspected to find them. An ‘electronic map of illegal machines’ devised by the Ministry of Finance will soon make pinpointing illegal slot machines much easier. Data will be provided by police officers, private companies or regular citizens.
The plan was devised as slot machine raids still continue. Although the illegal machines were to be removed almost a year ago, there is still a long way to go. It was these machines that caused the 2009 gambling scandal, the first scandal during the Civic Platform government. Licenses were given out at such a pace that at one point 53 000 slot machines operated throughout the country. To combat the problem, the 2009 Gambling Act ruled that customs officers would cease issuing new licenses and would not renew already existing ones. The last licenses expired on October 29, 2015.
The Ministry of Finance report on the status of implementation of the Gambling Act states that the last three arcades which operated four slot machines in Poland were closed as of the end of August 2015. This, however, is only official data. The machines continue to operate as always, despite the increase in confiscations.
‘The confiscations have cost us a lot of time and effort, as well as being expensive to taxpayers. This has been going on for years, and as you can see on Polish streets, we have not managed to get rid of them’, says Sławomir Siwy, chairman of the Polish Customs Union. “The officers’ efforts to make the unlicensed machines disappear are still ineffective. This is due to sloppy laws that enabled courts to return machines to their owners. So they returned to the bars, lounges and restaurants, where they were seized again. After going through court cases they still stand in bars, pubs and shops’, admits Siwy.
Within the first five years since the Act came to force, customs officers confiscated 425 00 machines, compared to the 302 00 machines seized from more than 36 00 locations across the country in 2015 alone. As of September 2016, customs officers have tracked down and seized nearly 14800 illegally operating slot machines.
‘At least tens of thousands of machines have returned to the market. How many exactly? No one knows. The owners of these machines won approx. 35 000 court cases, as a result of which customs officers had to return the machines’, tells us Stanislaw Matuszewski, president of Chamber of Commerce of Producers and Operators of Entertainment Devices.
The main goal of the map is increasing efficiency in the fight against slot machines. Information about the specific locations of slot machines is to be constantly updated.
‘Will such a map come in handy? Customs officers have no problems tracing slot machines. After all, their owners don’t hide. These places can be easily traced. The bigger problem wasenforcing the ban’, points out Siwy.
‘A map? I can tell you right away that the markets, pubs and little restaurants along the main streets of cities, towns and along major roads are all covered. They are all clearly marked and their owners advertise themselves. They do not have to hide because after all, the courts had given their machines back’ emphasizes Stanislaw Matuszewski.