Zelenskyy Limits iGaming Access in Bid to Damp Military Betting Addiction

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy implemented new restrictions on internet casinos in the country in an effort to combat problem gaming among military personnel.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the press. He’s attempting to limit troops’ exposure to black market betting sites. (Image: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian army serviceman Pavlo Petrychenko, who died in combat last week, previously called attention to concerning wagering patterns among troops deployed in the war against Russia. Prior to his death, Petrychenko asked Zelenskyy to crackdown on military members’ access to internet casinos.

Military personnel have been away from their families for the third year, in stressful conditions and without the possibility of full rest, so they are especially psychologically vulnerable,” wrote Petrychenko in a March 29 letter to the Ukranian president. “For many, gambling becomes the only way to cope with stress, and therefore quickly causes dopamine addiction and weakens their self-control.”

Though he did not identify specific operators, Petrychenko said some gaming companies are preying on Ukrainian service members by offering microloans that lead to financial strain on the troops and their families. He added that some Russian firms are advertising directly to Ukrainian civilians and military members in an effort to gain sensitive data.

Ukrainian Troops Selling Equipment to Feed Betting Habits

The betting problem among Ukrainian soldiers is all the more problematic when considering Petrychenko’s account of some troops selling equipment, including drones and thermal imaging gear, to raise cash for their wagering habits.

Assuming the late commander’s account of tactical equipment being pawned so troops can bet, that could have geopolitical implications because the US House of Representatives last week approved $61 billion in additional funding for Ukraine. Prior to that, since President Biden took office, the US sent $74.3 billion in aid to Ukraine, including $46.3 billion in military assistance.

However, Americans’ enthusiasm for funding Ukraine is waning, particularly as inflation and interest rates in this country remain elevated relative to historical norms. Amplifying Americans’ concerns about Ukraine military funding is speculation that proper accounting of US military assistance to the country is limited. There’s also rumors that equipment given to Ukraine by NATO allies has been sold for profit on the black market, not used in the fight against Russia.

Zelenskyy Seeking Help from Big Tech

In a bid to limit troops’ exposure to mobile betting applications, Zelenskyy is asking for help from Apple and Google parent Alphabet — the companies behind the two largest app stores. The Ukrainian cabinet has reportedly asked those two US technology companies to pull unregulated betting apps from their app stores.

In his letter to Zelenskky, Petrychenko requested that the Verkhovna Rada — Ukraine’s equivalent of a congress — enact measures to force internet service providers to block access to unregulated internet casinos, forbid pawnshops from accepting military equipment, and ban gaming-related advertising targeting Ukrainian troops, among other requests.

“Huge debts of servicemen with game addiction can also become an element of pressure and manipulation from the special services of the aggressor country,” wrote Petrychenko. “According to Article 93 of the Constitution of Ukraine, the President has the right of legislative initiative, and the bills defined by the President of Ukraine as urgent are considered by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in advance.”

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