Russian casinos iced

Russia’s casino industry has seen explosive growth in the past few years, but things are changing. From the Miami Herald:

Garish or goofy or grim, Russia’s casinos and slot-machine halls are some of the most vivid testimony to communism’s collapse.

But, under legislation approved Wednesday by Russia’s lower house of parliament, the $6 billion industry is to be driven out of Moscow, St. Petersburg and most of the rest of Russia.

Once the bill is signed into law, gamblers will have only until mid-2009 to lay their bets in Russia’s major cities. After that they’ll have to go to a remote part of Siberia or three other regions distant from Moscow.

”These are repressive measures — essentially they amount to a ban,” said Yevgeny Kovtun, vice president of the Association of Gambling Businesses, which unites about 30 gaming companies.

With the exception of a drab national lottery, Soviet citizens had no outlet for their speculative urges. That changed with the arrival of capitalism: Neon-decked casinos sprouted in big cities — the exterior of one in Moscow looks like a steamship — some offering prizes of luxury cars or $1 million in cash. Slot-machine halls have appeared throughout the country, sometimes even next to schools.

Russia’s oil-driven economic upswing of recent years sent new cash to the gaming tables. But a public backlash has grown.

”This is a business based on vice. It brings no good,” said Vladimir Medinsky, deputy chairman of the parliament committee that drafted the legislation.

”It hasn’t been banned altogether, because it is a natural vice and should therefore be controlled,” he told The Associated Press.

Industry players say that while limitations are needed, a complete ban except for the gaming zones is harsh and could kill the industry. The restrictions, they say, assume Russians will be ready to jump on a plane and fly to the taiga — the sub-Arctic forest region — to make a bet.

”In the U.S. people know about Las Vegas from childhood, but in Russia gambling tourism doesn’t exist,” Kovtun said. “Before, a person would pop into a casino or slot-machine hall between the metro and his house. Now . . . the gaming companies will have to entice him to the Pacific coast.”

The zones, which are currently infrastructure-free wilderness, are located in the Altai region in Siberia, the Pacific coast region of Primorsky, the Kaliningrad area along the Baltic coast and an area in Russia’s south between Rostov and Krasnodar. | 12/21/2006 | Russia freezes gambling, sends it to Siberia

So we’re going to see Las Vegas in the Altai? Stranger things have happened. It will all boil down to infrastructure and marketing.

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