Landlocked Kazakhstan has remained a mystery to the western traveler for centuries, unknown save from the pages of Marco Polo or Kipling. Few outsiders have experienced the charms of this central Asian country, other than the merchants who plied the Silk Road. Yet since Kazakhstan gained its independence in 1991 and especially under the farsighted and benevolent presidency of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country has flourished. As the nation flourishes, so do Kazakhstan casinos. Flushed with oil money, it’s boom time in the gambling establishments of this former soviet republic. There are seven cities that have within them legal casino facilities of which there are exactly twenty-eight such places. Indeed if you are hungry for a bet, the tables are the only game in town, as Kazakhstan casinos are the only gambling operations permitted there.
Most notable to the dedicated gambler must be the former capital and largest city in the country, Almaty, that veritable Las Vegas of central Asia, boasting no less than 18 casinos and counting. With a soaring nine percent growth per year, the Kazakh economy has expanded enormously in the last ten years and with it the Kazakh appetite for the gaming tables. The cosmopolitan, multiethnic, multinational city of Almaty is unrecognizable from its previous existence as the principal city of a grey Soviet satellite state. New wealth has brought glamor and excitement to the place, a fact best embodied by the city’s largest casino, Casino Viva. One of a chain, this fabulous Kazakhstan casino hotel can claim twenty-six games tables and ninety-three slot machines. What’s more, the craze for Internet poker has not gone unnoticed in Kazakhstan casinos with the innovation of video poker fast becoming a favorite. Outside of Almaty, the intrepid gambler is also served; for example, the capital Astana has five casinos, chief amongst them being one of the Casino Zodiak chain that enjoys no less than twenty card tables. If that is not enough for any man, casinos are also to be found further afield in the cities of Aktobe, Kokshetau, Pavlodar, Shimkent, and Ust-kamenogorsk. It is clear, however, that the Kazakh fondness for the green baize and clink of chips is not sated, since the vice-foreign minister recently visited Macao and Hong Kong. The visit was reported to be a “short but fruitful” trip designed to study the gambling industries of these towns and encourage interest in Kazakhstan’s nascent casino business. In fact, a possible direct air link has been touted between Almaty and Hong Kong or Macao, which should bolster enthusiasm for this once exotic place soon set to become the choice of the in-crowd.