The actual number of Kyrgyzstan casinos is something in a little doubt. As information from this country, out in the very most central part of Central Asia, can be difficult to get, this might not be too surprising. Whether there are two or three legal casinos is the thing at issue, perhaps not quite the most earth-shattering piece of information that we don’t have.
What will be true, as it is of most of the ex-Soviet states, and certainly true of those in Asia, is that there will be many more illegal and underground casinos. The change to legalized gambling didn’t encourage all the former places to come out of the dark into the light: this is true of a lot of the economies of these countries, as well. So, the controversy over the number of Kyrgyzstan’s casinos is a minor one at best: how many legal ones is the thing we’re trying to answer here.
We know that in Bishkek, the capital city, there is the Casino Las Vegas (a stunningly original name, don’t you think?), which has both gaming tables and slot machines. We can also find both the Casino Bishkek (which, given that it is in Bishkek, is another stunningly original name, don’t you think?) and the Xanadu Casino. Both of these have 26 slot machines and 11 gaming tables, divided amongst roulette, blackjack, and poker. Given the remarkable similarity in the size and layout of these two Kyrgyzstan casinos, it might be even more surprising to find that they share an address. This seems most unlikely, so we can perhaps state that the list of Kyrgyzstan’s casinos, at least the legal ones, stops at two members, one of them having changed name recently.
The country, in common with most of the ex-Soviet Union (in what is now called the Commonwealth of Independent States or CIS), has undergone something of a rapid conversion to capitalism. The Wild East, you might say, to refer to the lawless conditions of the Wild West a century and a half ago. Great fortunes have been made very rapidly with little reference to the law and small ones even more quickly by deliberately violating it. The casinos, again in common with others in the CIS, have become one of the places where this new found wealth is demonstrated, both in the drinks and foods that are purchased and in the abandon with which people gamble.
Kyrgyzstan’s casinos are actually worth going to, therefore, as a piece of anthropological research, to see money being gambled as a form of social one-upmanship, the conspicuous consumption that Thorstein Veblen talked about in 19th century America.