ut casinos were expected to refashion themselves into poker clubs under a quirk of Russian law that officially recognises poker as a sport rather than a game of chance.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the law, which was signed in 2006 by then-president Vladimir Putin.
The law puts an end to the days when businessmen and gangsters who acquired fantastic wealth in the chaotic 1990s gambled it away in lavish casinos in central Moscow. A special task force to ensure compliance with the law has been set up in the Russian capital, a spokeswoman for the Moscow city government, Maria Sokolova, told RIA-Novosti news agency.
Starting July 1 casinos may only operate in four remote regions of Russia, each of them at least 1,000 kilometres from Moscow and some much further. The four designated legal gambling zones are in Russian western Kaliningrad exclave; along the Azov Sea in the south; in the Altai region of Siberia; and in the far eastern Primorye region, near North Korea and Japan.
But the gaming industry has been reluctant to move there, given the regions' undeveloped infrastructure and difficulty of attracting customers to the far-flung locations.
The gambling law is expected to have the biggest impact on Moscow, which had 524 casinos and gaming halls until the law took effect, and the northern city of Saint Petersburg, which had 109.