Rising number of Turks flocking to Batumi, Georgia's ‘Laz' Vegas, to gamble
The Black Sea region is home to the Laz ethnic and linguistic group, prompting many people to jokingly refer to entertainment hub Batumi as “Laz Vegas.”
No visas are required to cross the Sarp Border Gate, in line with a protocol signed between Turkey and Georgia in 2011, which permits passage with ID cards only.
Turkish revelers visiting Batumi enjoy not only the discos and nightclubs but also an increasing number of casinos, which has created a major problem, according to Ömer Faruk Ofluoğlu of the Rize Trade and Industry Chamber.
“We have learned that some of our citizens visit Batumi just to gamble. Some people develop a taste for gambling and suffer greatly afterwards,” Ofluoğlu told the Doğan News Agency, adding that millions of Turkish Liras are being spent in the Georgian city.
“This situation affects people’s families and livelihoods. Low-income earners are frittering away their children’s bread money on gambling,” he said.
As a consequence of the protocol, which went into effect on Dec. 11, 2011, border crossings at the Sarp Border Gate initially exceeded six million annually. This number has continued to rise year-on-year.
Batumi, which lies just 17 kilometers from the border, has been receiving guests mainly from the Black Sea provinces of Artvin, Rize, Trabzon and Giresun, and the eastern province of Erzurum. But people from across Turkey have been indulging in the dubious pleasures of the city.
Long queues of vehicles and pedestrians are frequently observable near the Sarp Border Gate due to the intense demand to cross into Georgia, which shares a border with Artvin on the Turkish side.
Traffic jams caused by congestion have become a common sight, especially on weekends, prompting bus drivers to complain about delays.
When asked about their reasons for visiting Batumi, many Turks say they want to buy fuel, which costs half in Georgia compared to Turkey.
Colorful placards advertising entertainment centers welcome visitors crossing the border into Georgia. Seven-star hotels, aqua parks, entertainment centers and glittering streets immediately grab attention, while casinos also generate a huge interest.
According to surveys carried out in the Black Sea region, the majority of Turkish gambling addicts acquired their tastes in Georgia. A key reason for the rise in gambling addictions is believed to be easy access to casinos.
The vast majority of Batumi’s casino clientele are Turkish citizens. Some find themselves broke after spending all their money on gambling, and end up returning to their home country to sell their houses, cars, lands and even their cows to make up for their loss.
The trend is also having negative effects on families back in Turkey, with many torn apart due to the temptations of nightlife and gambling.
“Authorities must enact measures to address the problem of gambling addiction,” Ofluoğlu said, adding that individual families must also take responsibility for themselves.
“We are telling our citizens: ‘Don’t throw away your family income on gambling.’ Turkey-Georgia relations should facilitate tourism and trade. We need to take precautions to prevent this gambling disease. Money is being spent there and it’s such a waste,” he added.