Hopes that the game of poker would escape the Russian ban on gambling in its major cities were dashed this week when the Russian Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism arbitrarily decreed July 20th that the game is no longer a sport. The order closes a valuable Russian law loophole for the game, which had previously been defined as a sport in the Federation.
Confirming the order, the Russian Youth, Sport and Tourism Minister Vitaly Mutko said: "We have made a change in the Russian list of sports, approved by the order of the Russian State physical training and sport committee on January 1, 2004. We have struck poker off the list."
The decree throws poker back into the general gambling ban (see previous InfoPowa reports) in Russia, confining its operation to only four remote designated areas where gambling establishments may be set up.
Mutko's statement includes the view that poker was placed on the sports list without the the authority of the minister.
"The decision to include poker on the official list of sports should be taken by a special Ministry commission, and not by the head of the Russian State Physical Training and Sport Committee [which was the case with the classification of poker as a sport]," Mutko said. "What's more, the decision should be registered by the Justice Ministry, and this was not done."
The Russian about-turn on poker will likely dislocate the planned European Poker Tour stop scheduled for Moscow mid-August, although an official response to enquiries regarding this has not yet come through.
Operators wishing to offer legal poker under the new Russian gambling regime have serious obstacles to overcome, not least of which are the remoteness of the areas set aside for gambling, and the seriously undeveloped nature of those regions, which include Kaliningrad, the Primorsky region, the Altai region in Siberia and the cities of Krasnodar and Rostov.
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