Large-scale operation targeting illegal games of chance in Austrian Land of Niederösterreich: A smashing success
“The only legal piece of technology in this place is the refrigerator.”
Press Release, 02 February 2012
At the stroke of 10 am on 1 February 2012, roughly 150 staff members of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Finance launched the first-ever task force operation of this scale, across the entire Austrian federal state of Niederösterreich.
The operation, conducted by investigators including the Financial Police and staff from the Tax Office for Stamp Duties, Transfer Taxes and Games of Chance, targeted gambling machines installed at inns, guesthouses, restaurants, filling stations and betting cafés. The staff of the Finance Ministry were supported by 40 colleagues from the Niederösterreich Land Police.
As a basic principle, so-called “small games of chance” are permitted in the Nieder österreich region . In “small games of chance”, the maximum permissible wager is EUR 0.50 and the maximum prize EUR 20. For that reason, this targeted operation focused only on locations lacking a permit from the Land authority. “Gambling machines enable players to wager up to EUR 12 per game, and they hold out the prospect of thousands of Euros of winnings”, Federal Ministry of Finance Staff Unit head Wilfried Lehner explains.
The Financial Police is particularly challenged by the clever tricks deployed by gambling machine operators. Some machines are linked to servers enabling them to be shut down at the start of a raid. “However, those locations can be certain they will be seeing us again”, local investigative team heads are quick to point out.
Gambling machine vendors, owners or operators risk administrative fines of up to EUR 22,000 for violations of the Austrian Games of Chance Act. Even so, many business people hazard the consequences of such fines, because they can often earn more with the gambling machines than they do from their primary businesses.
The operation, officially completed just before midnight, yielded seizures of roughly 180 illegal gambling machines; funds and property were likewise impounded on the spot for approx. EUR 20,000 in tax arrears. In addition, seven criminal reports were filed for violations of the Austrian General Social Insurance Act, three criminal reports for violations of the Employment of Aliens Act, one for a violation of the Unemployment Insurance Act, three for violations of the Cash Transactions Ordinance, and the police made one arrest under the Austria Code of Criminal Procedure.
One interesting side-note: In the course of the operation, some of the gambling machine operators ap parently panicked and attempted to make off with their machines at the last minute. Unfortunately for them, the Financial Police was quicker, and thus the drivers of the operators’ vans had to turn back with nothing to show for their effort. Removal of the illegal machines will now be handled by the District Administrative Authority.
“Kudos to the men and women of the Financial Police and the Tax Office for Stamp Duties, Transfer Taxes and Games of Chance. I would like to express particular thanks to the coordinators at the Financial Police, who in a matter of only 1.5 weeks planned and managed the entirety of the raids carried out at individual inn, pub, restaurant and café premises”, Austrian Finance Minister Dr. Maria Fekter emphasised.