President of Turkey Shows Displeasure Over Access to Neighboring Georgia’s Casinos

Posted on: September 27, 2016, 01:16h. 

Last updated on: October 12, 2016, 03:22h.

In troubled Turkey, where President Recep Erdogan has tightened his authoritarian grip on the country since the failed dramatic coup d’etat on July 15 of this year, a new potential for dissidence has arisen. And it’s one that Erdogan can’t quite so easily control.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan is determined to shut down casinos in neighboring Georgia, but there are some things that even a dictatorial president can’t control. (Image:

To be sure, thousands have been arrested in the wake of the attempted seizure of power by a faction within the Turkish armed forces. And those include not just alleged plotters, but also judges, educators, and journalists, prompting fears that Erdogan is using the coup as a pretext to muzzle his critics.

One thing Erdogan cannot touch, however, are the casinos across the country’s north-eastern border with neighboring Georgia. For a hardline conservative whose Islamist leanings are in contrast with the country’s tradition of secularist political culture, the thought of hard-working Turks disappearing over the border and coming back with their pockets empty is more than the hardliner Erdogan can bear.

Bring Back Our Husbands

Casinos were banned in Turkey in 1998, and online casinos in 2006, but in June 2012, Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan signed what became known as the Trabzon Declaration. This treaty increased ties between three Caucasus powers and permitted a new freedom of movement of people across their mutual borders.

Turkey’s ambassador in the Georgian Dead Sea resort of Batumi immediately reported that legions of Turks would “close their shops and head straight to the casinos here.” And Turkish wives, he said, were already calling the ambassador’s office, demanding to know where their husbands were.

It was thought that Erdogan might use the failed coup as an excuse to close the border, which would in turn stem that tide of casino-goers. Instead, and perhaps surprisingly for a man who’s not famous for his finesse, he’s taken a more diplomatic approach.

According to reports in the region’s media earlier this month, Erdogan asked the former Georgian president, Bidzina Ivanishvili, to pull some strings to get the casinos closed down in that country.

No Dice  

“I remember when I had a meeting with Erdogan the first thing he asked me was to close these casinos,” Ivanishivili told journalists. “Many come from Turkey to play here and [they] lose a fortune but what can we do?”

Billionaire Ivanishivili “retired” from politics in 2013, but Erdogan knew that he was the go-to-guy. According to political scientist Kornely Kakachia, he is “outside democratic control, outside institutional checks and balances, yet he is ultimately calling the shots, which puts Georgia in a vulnerable position both vis-à-vis democracy and foreign policy.”

And to Erdogan’s disappointment the old oligarch did not bite.

“This is a type of business, people like it and it boosts tourism,” Ivanishvili said. “To be honest I would be happy to ban gambling but this contributes to our economy so we can’t have very strict approach.”

And that means that the ambassador’s office in Batumi will be besieged by phone calls from irate Turkish wives for the foreseeable future.