International edition
June 21, 2021

A total of 72 % of Russians back the law

Gamblers crowd casinos to place last bets in Russia

(Russia).- Workers lugged slot machines and stools out of casinos as throngs of die-hard gamblers skipped work to place their last bets Tuesday afternoon. "There might be twice as many people today than usual," said Olga Azarova, manager of the slot machine hall at the New York casino in the Pekin Hotel in central Moscow.

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s of Wednesday, gambling in Moscow will be restricted to lotteries, bookmakers and poker in specially licensed sports clubs. Slot machines and roulette wheels will be banished to four far-flung regions of Russia, none of which have been developed yet.

Several big Moscow casinos and gaming halls decided to shut ahead of the deadline. The Arbat casino closed its doors Monday night, workers carried out furniture onto Novy Arbat on Tuesday morning. Kristall, Metelitsa, Imperia and Golden Palace were also closed by Tuesday. "We are law-abiding citizens and have decided to close ahead" of the deadline, a Golden Palace spokeswoman told RIA-Novosti.

As a result, gamblers flooded the few establishments left open Tuesday afternoon, including Shangri La, Karnaval, Udarnik, Jazz Town and New York, which warned customers that they would close at 7 p.m.

Amid the whir of turning roulette wheels, blinking slot machines and dealers shuffling cards at the New York casino, Azarova, said she had not decided what to do when she joined the estimated 400,000 people nationwide left jobless by the gambling ban. She has a diploma in state management, but she isn't planning to join any state institution in the nearest future. "The salaries are ridiculous there. I'm going to take a rest for a month and then decide. I'll probably go abroad," she said.

Moscow city officials have offered assurances that newly unemployed casino workers could find jobs in restaurants and other service-oriented businesses, but Azarova complained that many companies were avoiding hiring people who used to work in the gambling industry. "They are afraid of the word '-casino' for some reason. But it's not right. One can get great experience working here," she said.

Storm International, which owned five big casinos, including New York, and 25 slot machine halls, is moving its business abroad. "There are already halls in Mexico, Armenia and the CIS countries," said Storm International spokesman Lavrenty Gubin.

Casino owners said they had no interest in moving to the new gambling zones: the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, Siberia's Altai region, Primorye on the Pacific coast and the border of the southern Krasnodar and Rostov regions.

"Are we going to move? Of course we are not," said Konstantin Kopylov, the owner of Kristall, RIA-Novosti reported. "You cannot run a business on someone's wish. Business is run in the areas where a profit can be made." The four zones need an estimated $40 billion in investment to be developed.

A vast majority of Russians support the 2006 law that created the zones, according to a survey released Tuesday. A total of 72 % of Russians back the law, while 19 % oppose it, according to the survey of 500 people in major cities by Profi Online Research, RIA-Novosti reported.

A 43 % said they had gambled at casinos, on slot machines, in lotteries or online in the past six months, and 58 % said they were likely to continue gambling online, the survey said. Tatyana Dmitriyeva, head of the prestigious Serbsky psychiatric institute, also welcomed the ban, saying that "the gambling addiction destroys individuality."

She cautioned, though, that psychiatrists could see more patients in connection with the ban. "Of course, there will be a transition period when addicts will be searching for some kind of substitute, and more people will turn to psychiatrists," Dmitriyeva said, Interfax reported. "We must be ready for this. It's an unavoidable process."

Police said they were ready to hold checks and crack down on gaming establishments working outside the zones starting Wednesday. At the New York casino, the staff looked glum as the deadline neared but tried to focus on their dozens of clients. "They are just tired of waiting for the X hour," said Gubin, the spokesman.

The casino was also unusually crowded with TV journalists, who annoyed gamblers with their bright lights and their decision to occupy several poker tables to stage interviews. A manager wondered anxiously when they were going to leave because "more visitors are expected to play here."

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