The Russian Federation is a lucrative place for the iGaming market. However, the government’s decision to ban gambling in the country has hurt the potential of the untapped market. Home to more than 142 million people and more than a few potential high rollers, Russia could be a mighty force in online gaming.
History of Gambling in Russia
During the rule of the Soviet Union, all forms of gambling were banned in controlled states, including Russia. It continued until the late 1980s, wherein the fall of the communists across the Eastern Europe let to the destabilization of the gambling market. Soon enough, the first legal slot machines appeared in 1988. The gambling ban was completely lifted in 1989, followed by the opening of the first gambling den in Moscow and a casino in Savoy Hotel.
Since then, however, gambling has proved a sensitive subject. Its uncontrolled rise led to massive problems among Germans. For example, in 2002, there were estimated to be 58 casinos in Moscow alone.
The big major change occurred in 2009, however, when Vladimir Putin’s government relocated all gambling to 4 new gambling zones in Kaliningrad Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, Altai Krai, and Primorsky Krai. Gambling has been banned elsewhere in the country since then.
The Primorsky Krai is the latest gambling zone added to that list, and is perfectly placed to take advantage of the booming Asian market. Located close to the Chinese border, plans for the super casino close to Vladivostok are aimed at attracting Asian high rollers to the region.
Online Gambling in Russia
In Russia, online gambling is not far on how the land-based gambling is being treated. Except for one thing: it is being actively pursued by the government.
Indeed, the 2006 laws on online gambling prohibit the playing of games of chance, although poker remains in a grey area due to issues surrounding whether it is a skill game. Russian gamblers have been able to access foreign based websites however, although this has come into doubt recently, as ISPs have been asked to block gambling related websites. Some of the websites support Russian language. There is a federal lottery, however, which is not banned, and allows gamblers to wager on the lottery via two state run lotteries: Gosloto and Sportloto.
Currently, there are 263 Russian sites that offer gameplay in English or Russian and accept wagers in euros or Russian roubles or US dollars.
In January of 2015, Russian authorities announced plans to block payments to unlicensed online betting sites. This law targets banks and online payment processors to identify known gaming transactions and prevent them from going through.
Russian Betting Websites for Real Money
Land-based casinos are relegated to four specific zones and are prohibited everywhere else. Online gambling is subject to internet censorship and outright prohibition.
Notwithstandingly, the Russian market does prove lucrative for online betting sites that insist on accepting customers from the country contrary to local laws. Some of the world’s biggest gaming sites proudly welcome citizens complete with Russian-language websites and ruble-friendly deposit methods.
Russian betting sites do play a dangerous game considering authorities have never been ones to go lenient on those who flout the law. Operators smartly steer well clear of the country because the law very clearly prohibits organizing gambling games over the internet anywhere in Russia. Recent changes in the law also make it a criminal offense for players to patronize foreign betting sites.
Individual gamblers had little to worry about for years as past laws failed to criminalize the activity of placing bets at unlicensed Russian betting sites. This changed in late 2014 with a bill that provides punishment for those caught placing wagers online or in the real world outside of specifically exempt casinos and bookmakers. The new law provides up to 240 hours of compulsory work, two years’ imprisonment or up to four years of “confinement.”
Future of iGaming in Russia
It is still unclear how proactive the government will be in enforcing these laws against individual gamblers. I would not recommend pushing your luck too quickly. Lawmakers specifically mentioned online betting in the bill and that could very well indicate that they do plan to take action against normal gamblers.
Eventually, a few licensed sports betting sites in Russia will be allowed to process payments through a centralized processing organization designed to keep an eye on the industry. Offshore betting sites that accept Russian customers will have to find alternative payment means if they wish to stay active in the country.
If the government does eventually get its act together and regulate online sports betting, it is probably a safe bet to guess that authorities will become even more intent on shutting down all forms of unlicensed online gambling. It appears unlikely that online casino games will be legalized any time soon.
The future of online poker is also cloudy. Contradictory statements from Russian officials have at times inferred that poker should be treated as a game of skill. Others continue to call it a gambling game. Today, major poker sites are blocked from accessing the Russian market and there are no immediate plans to open a domestic online poker industry. This could change, but it doesn’t look like change is imminent.
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