Czech Gambling Lobby Criticised

Practices such as favouritism, non-standard lobbying, economic and media pressure and conflict of interests have been applied to influence authorities dealing with gambling

In an analysis of this year’s gambling legislation the Czech Human Rights Ministry is critical of manner in which its drafting was influenced, claiming that the interests of the industry were positioned above those of the public.

The Prague Monitor reported over the weekend that the analysis found that practices such as favouritism, non-standard lobbying, economic and media pressure and conflict of interests have been applied to influence authorities dealing with gambling, and that the gambling lobby drove through changes to the government’s draft bill before it was approved by parliament.

The report notes that among the pre-parliament changes influenced by the gambling lobby was a softening of the language regarding consumer protection and the prevention of problem gambling.

The analysis comes as the Cabinet prepares to discuss the risks of corruption in public administration Monday.

The Human Rights Ministry reported that the gambling industry is active in influencing the drafting of bills and directives for parliament, at the Finance Ministry and in the municipalities.

The report also notes the “extraordinary personal links” between representatives of gambling companies and the Finance Ministry’s section of the state’s supervision of betting and lottery activities, with a “revolving door” arrangement in which gambling business executives leave to serve in influential positions in the ministry, eventually returning to the gambling industry.

This increases the risk of corruption  and conflicts of interest, the analysis concludes.

Several former Finance Ministry officials are now working for Synot, a gambling company associated with Sen. Ivo Valenta, the report observes.

On the positive side, the analysis did find that attempts to influence the ministry have “somewhat diminished,” along with attempts to interfere in municipal directives.

Nevertheless, some town councils had changed “no gambling” policies, often under “economic and media pressure” applied by the gambling industry.

The report recommends more transparency in the legislative and decision making process as a means to reduce the risks of corruption.

Human Rights Minister Jan Chvojka is to submit by September this year recommendations for a bill on lobbying, and observers have speculated that this might include an improved registry for lobbyists detailing their contacts and track records.

Other suggestions are that a mandatory addendum be attached to all legislation listing all those persons and entities that submitted information and expert opinion related to them, and measures to protect corruption whistleblowers.