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VADUZ, Liechtenstein — It was a drab Tuesday evening in an industrial neighborhood in northern Liechtenstein, but that did not deter a steady stream of drivers in cars bearing an array of international plates. The Grand Casino, which opened in and has slot machines and 29 game tables spread over three floors, is his favorite, a place where he says he feels more likely to win. Covering about 62 square miles, Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in the world. Not even 40, people call it home. But only four years after opening its first casino, Liechtenstein — a tiny principality squeezed between Switzerland and Austria that is known mainly for its private banking and former status as a tax haven — now has more casinos per capita than Monaco, Macau or Clark County, Nev.
In the past few years, Liechtenstein has seen five casinos open — aimed mainly at attracting gamblers from neighboring countries — and there are plans for five more. The proliferation is causing alarm among some in a country where gambling had largely been illegal until Christian Frommelt, the director of the Liechtenstein Institut, an independent research organization, said casinos were likely to remain a divisive issue.
There are no sprawling gambling resorts with fireworks shows or reputations for never sleeping — no, these casinos are more focused on slots and tables. And because gamblers are allowed to light up while playing, they are also smoky. The gambling boom in Liechtenstein dates to , with the opening that year of two casinos. Three more followed soon after, and another two are scheduled to open by the end of this year. The casinos are predominantly run by foreign operators: two by Casinos Austria International and two by Novomatic, an Austrian gambling company and slot machine maker that has been implicated in a corruption scandal in its home country.
The fifth casino, and the majority of the others planned, will also be foreign-run. One reason the gambling industry has taken root in tiny Liechtenstein is its free-market ethos. Neighboring Switzerland and Austria, on the other hand, restrict the of casinos they allow. The tax system is another: Liechtenstein levies rates of In Austria, the rate is 30 percent, and in Switzerland, it starts at 40 percent and rises to 80 percent. Official statistics show that last year, not even a third of the nearly , visits were made by people who live in the country.
Thomas Pirron, the director of the Casino Schaanwald, near the Austrian border, said the majority of visitors to his casino come from Austria. Many, he said, are drawn to the range of slots on offer, but others to the relative privacy a cross-border trips allows. Pirron said. Opposition to the casino industry in Liechtenstein has been growing louder with each opening.
And the heightened attention has made the industry nervous. It says that the market will eventually regulate itself and that the of casinos will most likely eventually shrink to four. But for some government officials, that might not happen soon enough.
Frommelt, of the Liechtenstein Institut, said the country had transformed its financial industry in recent years in an effort to distance itself from its past as a tax haven, which was tainted by a series of scandals. Take, for instance, Josef Uenes, who recently drove about 40 minutes from his home near the city of St.
Gallen, Switzerland, to play the slots at the Grand Casino. Swiss casinos, like their Liechtenstein counterparts, are required to bar those considered to have gambling addictions or who regularly play beyond their means.
But lists of barred players are not currently exchanged across borders. So now and again he makes the trip to Liechtenstein to gamble. But, this time, things did not go his way, and he dropped 1, francs in 90 minutes. Detail area. Casino Schaanwald. Grand Casino. Uenes said with a laugh.Man seeking woman Liechtenstein
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