Thursday, July 2, 2009

In Russia, All Bets Are Off

Well, most bets at least, now that most of the country's casinos have been closed thanks to a law signed back in 2006 by then-President Vladimir Putin.

According to the law, as of July 1, casinos can now only operate in four specially-designated regions spread out across the country, and none are anywhere near the two Russian cities that were home to hundreds of casinos and gaming parlors: Moscow and St. Petersburg. That's probably by design since Putin called gambling addiction an even worse addiction than alcoholism (though oddly enough one gambling zone is in the Altai region of Siberia, a favorite summer vacation spot for Putin).

But you have to wonder if it's a wise move now, given that Russia's economy is in the midst of a deep recession. Few casinos seem willing to pack up and leave Moscow for the approved gambling zones in Siberia or the Russian Far East. The government claims the law will only put about 10,000 people out of work, though Russia's trade organization for the gaming industry says the figure will be more than 300,000 - that's a lot of job losses for a struggling economy to absorb.

Russia's loss though could be Belarus' gain. The government there just announced plans to set up their own gambling zone outside the capital, Minsk, complete with duty-free shopping and visa-free travel. Of course nothing screams "party" like the thought of a long weekend in perhaps the most Soviet of former-Soviet states and the one run by a guy who has been called "Europe's last dictator". If you think that Sam Rothstein was tough on cheaters, imagine how security at Casino Minsk will handle card counters...
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