ll casinos and slot halls will be outlawed. With the exception of four far-flung special zones, no gambling will be allowed across the Russian Federation. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin proposed the legislation in 2006, when president, in an apparent attempt to wipe out an immoral industry. Despite expectations of a compromise with the casinos, Putin has stood firm.
As of today, neither of the zones is ready to host casinos. The delays were caused by lack of government financing and interest from real estate developers, hit by the financial crisis. However, the government has denied repeated pleas from the gambling industry to push back the July 1 deadline.
The ban on casinos has been greeted with enthusiasm by majority of Russians, who in the last years have learned the hard way the definition of the word “ludomania.” Critics of the antivice program say that the move will not effectively limit gambling but will simply push it underground. Some of the casinos and slot machine operators are not closing their businesses and not taking the signs off (they will have to remove them by July 1 according to the new law), hoping for the last minute changes to the legislation. Several of the slop machine operators’ employees we interviewed told us that “the owners are confident we’ll be able to work as usual after July 1.”
Gambling in Moscow will be restricted to lotteries, bookmakers and poker in specially licensed sports clubs. Roulette wheels and blackjack tables will be confined to four special zones: the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad; the area around the Sea of Azov in the southern Krasnodar region; Siberia's Altai region; and the Primorye region on the Pacific coast.
So far no casinos have been built in any of these regions, amid scepticism that officials would enforce the draconian new law.
But the zones require an estimated us$ 40 billion in investment to be turned into the Las Vegases of Russia, and up to 400,000 people could be out of work from Wednesday, said Samoil Binder, deputy executive director of the Russian Association for Gaming Business Development.
The Altai region, for example, has reached an agreement with only one major casino operator, Casino Austria, which has casinos in 18 countries, according to Siberian Coin's web site. Casino Austria, however, has abandoned a plan to invest in Azov City.
While Siberian Coin looks unlikely to open for business Wednesday, the Altai administration has defined its borders, unlike in the Far East, where the Primorye region is only now considering where its gaming zone will be located. "It is clear that the zones won't be set up by July 1. The question is whether they will be set up at all," Binder said.
Casino managers say the industry is likely to mutate. While big-rolling casinos are likely to stay shut, many slot-machine parlours will reinvent themselves as poker clubs or lottery halls – two forms of gambling not banned.
Local authorities are setting up hotlines where citizens can report violations of the anti-casino law. According to the gambling industry association information, there are more than 900.000 slot machines in Russia, or approximately one per 120 residents of the country – twice as much as in the US.