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Gambling Ban Will Hurt Emerging Russian Poker Scene

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Jul/26/2009
poker russia

In recent years, Russians have made an impact on the world of poker.  In particular there is Ivan Demidov, who made the final table of both the World Series of Poker and its European cousin the same year (2008).  Demidov's poker career has helped him to earn close to $7 million in a very short time span.

But the Russian government is about to crack down on its poker industry.

This month, Russia shut down all its land-based casinos, and poker will not be immune. 

The law that started the whole process was introduced in 2006 by Mr. Putin, then the president and now the prime minister, who spoke of the perils of the blackjack tables and the one-armed bandits, of shady characters having a grip on the industry.

Neither Mr. Putin nor his protégé, President Dmitri A. Medvedev, have yielded to requests for a reprieve.

"The rules will not be revised in any way," Mr. Medvedev said last month, "and there will be no backsliding, although various business organizations have been lobbying for precisely this."

Casinos in Russia are now to be confined to the Altai region of Siberia; the coastal area of the Far East, near the border with North Korea and China; Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania; and the Azov Sea region in the south. Until casinos open there, Russia will be one of the few countries in Europe without them, though underground ones are likely to be established, the Times reports.

But poker nearly got a reprieve with a small bit of irony. Poker was legally classified as a sport, giving some the prospect of curbing their losses by becoming private poker clubs.  This is ironic in a sense because the US-based Poker Players Alliance has long argued that poker is a "game of skill" and continues to distance itself from any association with a "sports" classification or sports betting. 

The Kremlin has ruled that poker is "not a sport". Russian officials announced that an error was made in 2007 when poker was added to the list of official sports. As a result, poker clubs will also be illegal under the antigambling law.

How this new measure affects the emergence of poker pros coming out of Russia remains to be seen.

Already, PokerStars announced this weekend it will change its World Poker Tour venue from Moscow to Kiev in the Ukraine. 

From PokerStars.com:

"The Kiev event replaces the previously-scheduled 2009 Russian Open poker tournament due to be held at the Radisson SAS Slavyanskaya, Moscow from August 18-23, 2009. That event has been cancelled because our ability to run the event was placed in doubt due to the recent closure of all casinos in Russia."

Christopher Costigan, Gambling911.com Publisher 

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