On Tuesday, Georgian media reported that Turkish President Recep Erdogan Tayyp (pictured) had asked former Georgian Prime Minister and current billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili to use his influence to help close casinos that sit tantalizingly close to Turkey’s border.
Ivanishvili said he’d close all casinos if it were up to him, but it’s not, and besides, the casinos contribute a lot to the Georgian economy, particularly in the Adjara region, which lies just across Turkey’s northeastern border and contains the city of Batumi, a major tourist hub on the Black Sea coast.
According to official government data, 11 casino permits have been issued in Batumi compared to just three in the capital Tbilisi. Batumi’s municipal budget derives GEL 20.2m (US $8.7m) from all gambling fees and taxes, of which 81% comes from its casino operations.
Georgia imposes an annual fee of GEL 5m ($216k) on casinos, but Batumi charges only GEL 250k ($108k) and this fee can be waived entirely if the casino operator is willing to build a new hotel of at least 100 rooms. The state also imposes quarterly fees per slot machine and gaming table.
In 2012, Turkey and Georgia signed a deal that relaxed restrictions on each other’s citizens crossing their shared border. Almost immediately, Turkey’s ambassador in Batumi reported that hordes of Turks would “close their shops and head straight to the casinos here.” Turkish wives were reportedly calling the ambassador’s office demanding he locate their husbands and send them home.
The recent failed coup in Turkey led to fears that the borders would be closed. It didn’t happen, but the uncertainty reportedly led to a significant reduction in the number of Turks crossing Batumi casino thresholds.
Turkey banned casinos in 1998, so Turks who want to partake in casino gambling have no choice but to patronize an illegal gaming parlor run by a stubborn opposition political party or venture abroad.
The latter option didn’t work out so well for Erkan Yildirim, the son of Turkey’s minister of transportation Binali Yildirim. In April, the younger Yildirim was photographed playing roulette at a casino in Singapore. The elder Yildirim is a staunch Islamist and considered by many to be Erdogan’s right hand man. Oops.