Five years ago, gambling was banned in all but four of Russia's territories: Kaliningrad, the Black Sea shore, the Altai Territory, and the area near Vladivostok. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stood behind the ban, citing increased addiction and a link between Moscow gambling and organized Georgian crime as one of the main reasons for it (read this too). Last year, however, the areas of Sochi and Crimea were added to Russia's narrow list of pro-gambling territories. The prime minister is looking forward to the construction of casinos in Crimea and Sochi in hopes of stimulating those territories' local economies, as well as the overall economy of his country.
Crimea: In Transition
The people of Crimea are in a state of transition at the moment. A year ago, theirs was a Ukrainian town, but now it belongs to Russia. Many inconveniences have interrupted residents' daily lives because of the change. For example, Ukrainian banks in Crimea have closed, but few Russian banks have opened, making it hard for residents to access their money. Ukrainian cell phone companies have cut their services to the area, forcing many to buy prepaid phones in order to avoid outrageous roaming fees. Things do not feel at all settled in Crimea at this time, but authorities are looking to the territory's future in hopes of prosperity.
Legalized Gambling in Crimea
As the peninsular region settles into its new ownership, the residents of Crimea hope the change-related issues with which they struggle will quickly iron themselves out. Legalized casino gambling in Crimea will be another significant change for area residents. It is estimated that $750 million in annual revenue will be generated by the introduction of the industry. Russian authorities hope that by establishing Crimea as a global hot spot for gambling, the world will begin to digest the fact that Crimea is now a part of Russia, not the Ukraine. When it comes time to build the anticipated casinos, citizens of Crimea will reportedly have control over where they will be located and how large they will be.
Dmitry Kozak: At the Helm of Change
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has been placed in charge of Crimea's economic future. Kozak says that gambling will be an important part of the new Crimea, but it won't be the area's bread-and-butter industry. Crimea now faces a deficit to the tune of billions of rubles, but it will receive some governmental aid in the coming months. At least $7 billion will be invested in Crimea's major industries, including transportation and telecommunications. Gambling will fill a small section of the area's new economic landscape, as well.
2014 Winter Olympics Site to Be Converted to Gambling Zone
Putin also wants Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, to become a legalized gambling zone in his country. Sochi's new betting industry will be housed inside the buildings that were used by the athletes of the 2014 Olympics. Plans for a new stadium in Sochi are also in the works; this stadium will be used for the 2018 World Cup tournament matches which are scheduled to take place four years from now.
Online Betting Ads in Russia: Still Forbidden
In spite of this increased acceptance of gambling in Russia, the scope of the industry is still quite limited. Just this month, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) asked Yandex, one of Russia's largest Internet search engine providers, to take down site ads that promoted gambling. Online gambling is very popular in Russia; an estimated 27 million Russian males and females participated in the activity in 2013, according to a source. An increase in smart phone ownership has helped catapult the industry in recent years, along with the steadily improving Russian economy.
The Legality of Online Gambling in Russia
Online betting is forbidden in Russia, although the aforementioned statistics clearly indicate that the people do it anyway. One of the main ways Russians participate in the activity is through foreign sites that support their language and accept their money.
The Russian government has compiled a list of hundreds of blacklisted online betting sites, including PokerStars, 888, and Ladbrokes. Internet service providers in the country are required to block citizen access to the sites on the government's list. Some poker sites are not on the list, as online poker exists in a gray area of Russian legality. Last spring, several online poker sites stopped accepting Russian bettors in spite of the fact that they hadn't been blacklisted.
Oracul: Russia's First Brick-and-Mortar Casino
Russia has only three legal land-based casinos. Its first brick-and-mortar facility, Casino Oracul, opened in January of 2010. The casino exists in the Azov City gambling zone and is operated by a company called Royal Time out of the country's Volga Republic of Tatarstan. Guests can partake of over 250 slot machines, poker, roulette, blackjack, a restaurant, and a snack bar. A small, 10-room hotel is affiliated with the Oracul; Royal Time hopes to create a much larger addition to the hotel by 2017.
The Casino Shambala
A second brick-and-mortar gambling facility in Russia, the Casino Shambala, operates out of Krasnodar, very close to Oracul. This facility offers over 140 slot machines and 12 table games. A 50-room hotel is also affiliated with this casino.
Russia's third betting facility is the Nirvana Casino. This facility boasts over 200 slot machines and a small number of live table games, including roulette, blackjack, and poker.
Like much of the world, the gambling landscape of Russia is changing. Only three casinos operate there now, and online betting continues to be illegal. However, it looks as though Prime Minister Putin is hoping to stimulate his country's economy by opening several more land-based casinos. Similar scenarios have played out in other areas of the world with struggling economies, including the United States.