Playing at online casinos in Russia is illegal. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. He parades his faith and often uses Orthodoxy as a reason for his staunch anti-gambling policies. Over the years, Putin has tightened the regulations against most forms of gambling, while allowing a certain amount of restricted gaming to take place.
2006 was a key year for land-based and online casinos in Russia. That was the year the online gambling ban became official. Russian-based players might want to think twice about betting electronically. Despite the warning, players should know that Russian gaming exists.
Russian Federal Law
A Russian federal law passed on December 29, 2006 formally prohibited online gambling altogether. The law was named “On state regulation of organization and management of gambling and changes to related legislation”. Besides outlawing online casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks, it outlawed what would become known as mobile casinos. The law banned all “gambling relying on telecommunications technology”.
Since that time, it is illegal to gamble online in the Russian Federation. It is not recommended Russian citizens or foreign visitors gamble on the Internet while inside Russia. That being said, many online casinos support the Russian language and Russian ruble.
Casinos Supporting the Ruble
At this moment, 85 licensed online casinos support the Russian language and the ruble as a form of currency. While many Russians can speak English, French, or German, it is these 85 casinos where Russians most likely would gamble. A handful of these are prominent European casinos every gambler knows. Many of them are not well-known. I would call them niche casinos.
Presumably, the online casino operators are targeting Russian speakers who are living outside the Russian Federation. Whether those casinos would allow signups from IP addresses inside Russia is unknown. Even if it’s allowed at present, engaging in such activities could get gamblers in trouble, due to the arbitrary nature of the government’s officials.
Russian Land-Based Gaming
The brick-and-mortar casino industry of Russia serves as an example of what I’m discussing. Russia has an ambivalent attitude towards gambling which in many ways reflects the attitude of Vladimir Putin. In 2002, the city of Moscow had 58 casinos and 2,000 smaller gaming venues. In these combined gaming halls, there were approximately 70,000 slot machines.
The Putin Regime began to remove the casinos and gaming halls over the next few years, culminating in the Federal Law Number 244 of July 1, 2009, which was also called “On State Regulation of Organization and Management of Gambling”. Federal Law No. 244 banned all land-based gaming in Russia, while creating four gambling zones: in Kaliningrad Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, Altai Krai, and Primorsky Krai.
Russian Gambling Zones
Before the Russian takeover of Crimea, the traditional vacation region on the Black Sea was home to three land-based casinos: Oracul Casino, Nirvana Casino, and Shambala Casino. All three Crimean casinos were successful business ventures, with player traffic increasing six fold between 2010 and 2013. According to a BBC report, Putin wanted to turn his favorite vacation spot, Sochi, into a casino destination spot. Russia had spent $50 billion to build facilities in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics and Vladimir Putin wanted to make the place into a permanent resort destination.
To accomplish that goal, the Russian Ministry of Finance closed down the Azov-city gambling zone and paid each of the gaming companies, such as Royal Time Gaming Group, $100 million apiece for their troubles. This made way for the Sochi
Vladimir Putin and Gambling
Despite his decision to assist the Sochi gaming zone, Vladimir Putin has an avowed dislike of gambling. The seemingly devout Russian Orthodox president of Russia called gambling a “dangerous addiction and a magnet for organized crime” in 2006. That was the year he banned Storm International, a successful gaming venture in Moscow. Storm International moved its operations to Georgia, Armenia, and Belarus. Most land casinos and slot machine parlors left soon after.
Laurie Korpi, of London’s gaming industry research firm, GamblingCompliance, said, “Russia is quite unique because it went against the trend globally. I can’t think of many countries which would have an established gambling industry that pays taxes and then overnight would basically just close the door.”
Gaming in Authoritarian States
The answer, of course, is Vladimir Putin. At a whim, online gambling could be banned in Russia. China is a stark example of what could happen to gaming interests in an authoritarian state. From 2004 to 2014, Macau saw the biggest growth spurt in the history of gambling. By 2014, Macau (the Chinese gambling enclave) was the largest gaming destination in the world, with seven times the annual revenue of its second-place rival, Las Vegas.
By February 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign was in full swing. That campaign was against Communist Party officials and major players in the financial sector. When Beijing realized many of these people were laundering money in Macau, the gaming enclave became a target. In February 2015, gaming revenues had declined 49% from where they were in the peak month of February 2014. In one year’s time, US gaming companies that had invested in Macau (Las Vegas Sands Corp, MGM Resorts, and Wynn Resorts) had lost 40% or more of their value on the New York Stock Exchange–all because of one man’s decision to crack down on gambling.
The upshot is this: Russian online gamblers and the operators who accept them should always keep a close eye on the local and national laws. What was legal yesterday could be illegal today.