Ukraine knocks Google and Apple to tackle gambling addiction in military ranks

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Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky today introduced a set of restrictions on internet casinos in a bid to curb what has been described as a gambling epidemic within the military. This is not the first time the wartime President has targeted gambling. Earlier in March 2023, he imposed sanctions on 120 individuals and 287 legal entities linked to betting and lottery companies including India-focused illegal offshore website PariMatch.

Online gambling sparked controversy recently when a petition filed by a Ukrainian serviceman Petrychenko pointed to the dangers of troops — often spending away long hours outside of combat and spending significant amounts of their monthly wage on online gambling platforms on their mobile phones. The petition filed in late March 2024 which received around 25,000 signatures, also cited the risk of Russian online casino operators targeting customers with ads designed to secure access to private data from military personnel and civilians. Petrychenko died on the front line on April 15 and was buried in Kyiv this week. Military personnel earn nearly 4 times the average pay in Ukraine and large chunks are said to be spent on illegal betting portals.

In late March, Ukrainian MP Aleksey Goncharenko claimed that “nine out of ten soldiers on the frontlines have problems with either casinos or betting.” According to the lawmaker, servicemen were spending their entire salaries on gambling and eventually were falling into debt. “This is an issue that is destroying the morale of the military right now,” Goncharenko said at that time, adding that “it is not just some problem. It is all hell broke loose,” he was quoted in the media reports.

The fresh measures developed by the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (SNBO) include making online casinos limit the time and money spent and banning multiple accounts. It also introduces a state monitoring system for online gambling and orders a government electronic communications watchdog to block all websites granting illegal access to the activity.

Ukraine’s cabinet will also restrict advertising and ask Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to prohibit gambling game applications in their stores without an appropriate license, reported Bloomberg.

The government plans to elaborate later on the restrictions for all kinds of gambling advertising, while the National Bank of Ukraine will make recommendations to banks to block payments to gambling accounts online.

Ukrainian forces are grappling with morale issues related to shortages of ammunition and manpower as the momentum of the war, now well into its third year, has shifted to Russia with the Ukranian allies now distracted towards Israel unrest. Kremlin forces are battering positions in Ukraine’s east and preparing for a potentially broader offensive.