Professional gaming as a professional business is relatively new for the Republic of Lithuania, but since 2002 when the first license was awarded to Olympic Casinos, they have proliferated throughout the country. Though most are concentrated in the capital city of Vilnius, there are casinos in the cities of Kaunas, Klaipeda, and Palanga, as well.
At the end of 2005, there were 57 land-based casinos, 142 betting salons, and 1 bingo salon in Lithuania, a growth of 46% over 2004. Income generated in 2005 was about 34.4 million Euros, according to the National Gambling and Gaming Business Association and the State Gaming Control Commission of the Republic of Lithuania.
The top casinos in Lithuania include: Aladdin Casino, Casino Planet, Grand Casino World, Casino Tornado, City Casino, Olympic Casino in the Reval Hotel, Los Patrankos, and Nese Casino.
Casinos in Lithuania offer slot machines, American roulette, poker, and blackjack, and many are open 24 hours. The casinos run from small, modest establishments to big, comfortable, lavish places, just as you find in other gambling meccas like Las Vegas and Monaco, with a comprehensive offering for both dabblers and serious gamblers.
When Lithuania joined the EU, tourism increased significantly, and now, visitors from across the continent and beyond come to Lithuania and are surprised to find quality service and a vast array of entertainment options, including gaming.
The only drawback to gaming in Lithuania is getting there. Since joining the EU, many plans have been put in place for both expanded rail and highway access, but the “Via Baltic” expressway has hit snags within Poland, which is unfortunate since 80% of tourists arrive by road. The outlook for expanded Euro rail service into Lithuania has been in the works, but the expense has pushed the prospects of high-speed trains from the West into the Baltic States many years into the future. Low-cost air service will probably become the second busiest method for tourist travel as two airlines have recently begun operation.
Of the top casino locations, Vilnius, as the capital of the Republic of Lithuania and largest administrative, political, economic, social, and cultural center, has, naturally, the largest concentration of gaming places.
Kaunas, with nearly 400,000 inhabitants, plays second fiddle in population, but many believe it is more charming because it is more purely “Lithuanian” than Vilnius. It is certainly one of the most significant cities of Lithuania and full of not only old traditions, but also home to a significant business and industrial center. It is also a city of youth, with over 35,000 students studying at one of seven universities.
Klaipeda is unique because it has been influenced by many countries over its long history and it seems that the strongest influence comes from Germany. Of course, there have also been Russian “visitors” at various times in history, and they have also left their footprints all over the city. The other big influence on Klaipeda is its coastal location at the mouth of the Curonain Lagoon, making it home to many a beach house providing a relaxing place to gamble.
Palanga is a year-round health resort, but it’s famous more for its raucousness during the short Lithuanian summer that runs between June and September. The population balloons from a measley 20,000, to a whopping 100,000 or more, especially on the weekends. During the day, the sunbathers soak up the sun and at night the party animals take over. Palanga in the summer is the number one Lithuanian place to let loose and have fun.
For a small democratic country that has only recently been free from a strict Soviet iron fist, it has come a long way in a short period. Lithuania knows how important tourist dollars are and they are eager to make the gaming inustry work, though with protections to keep it both legitimate and thriving. It’s one of the best kept casino secrets in the entire world, until now.