Russia's ban on land casinos in its main cities, effective July 1st this year, has presented operators with some tough decisions. Is it worthwhile to relocate to the four special gambling zones – mostly out in the boonies – decreed by the government, or is there an alternative course?
A growing number of operators are seriously considering staying where they are, but switching their focus to poker instead of casino gaming. Their motivation is based on a key development in 2007, when the Federal Sports Agency classified poker as a "sport," following an order signed March 26 by the body's head, Vyacheslav Fetisov.
On June 26, 2007, Seven-Card Stud Poker, Omaha and Texas Hold'em were officially included in the All-Russia Registry of Sports.
That means poker can be offered outside of the confines of the draconian new gambling dispensation, opines the Moscow Times in an article this week.
As much as ninety percent of gambling companies are planning to continue operating in the capital, becoming restaurants, entertainment centres and concert halls, Deputy Mayor Sergei Baidakov said last week. There are currently 549 gambling establishments in the city, including 32 casinos, he said.
The Moscow Times reminds readers that the entire Russian gambling industry was supposed to relocate to four special zones by this summer. Of them, the government has signed orders creating three: Azov-City, on the border of the Rostov and Krasnodar regions; Sibirskaya Moneta, in Altai; and Yantarnaya, in the Kaliningrad region. An order to create a zone in the far eastern Primorye region has not been signed, and none of the zones will be ready to operate by July 1.
Approximately one-third of Moscow's casinos will start holding competitive poker tournaments after the July deadline, an executive at the Gaming Business Association told the newspaper.
"This game doesn't have any connection to the gambling business, since in sports poker the players are competing against one another not the casino," said the Gaming Business Association official. "In Austria, Denmark and several U.S. states, poker has been removed from the list of games of chance."
The Federation of Competitive Preference is in talks with gaming business operators on holding tournaments, which would require certified personnel and equipment, video surveillance systems and so forth, said Dmitry Lesnoi, the federation's president. Preference, a whisk-based card game that is played with a 32-card deck, has been popular in Russia for some time.
"Of the five largest casinos, we'll most likely leave Jazz Town and Shangri-La, which will primarily become poker clubs. The facilities' income will come from renting the tables out to players," said Lavrenty Gubin, a spokesman for Storm International.
"We're holding talks with the poker federation and are considering holding tournaments as an alternative use of the space after the ban comes into effect," said Timofei Belyayev, the financial director of the Kosmos casino.
"In the Korston complex, such tournaments are already being held. So far, we have six tables, and in the near future we'll increase the number to 22," Korston president Anatoly Kuznetsov said.
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