Casinos banned in most cities; new law allows casinos only in four remote regions

Casinos and slot halls were shut down across Russia this week as a new law took effect that puts sweeping new restrictions on the country’s once-booming gambling industry.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to lose their jobs as a result of the ban, which was signed in 2006 by then-President Vladimir Putin in a bid to halt the spread of gambling addiction.

Moscow authorities set up a special task force to ensure compliance with the law, which inspected more than 500 gambling venues in the Russian capital, said Leonid Krutakov, a spokesman for the city government. “All of them are closed in compliance with the federal law,” he said in a report from RIA-Novosti news agency.

The ban is expected to have the biggest impact on Moscow, which had 524 casinos and slot arcades, and Saint Petersburg, which had 109.

And it marks the end of an era that began in the 1990s, when businessmen and gangsters who acquired fantastic wealth in Russia’s post-communist turmoil gambled it away in casinos. Gambling establishments, from seedy slot parlors to extravagant casinos for the new rich, seemingly popped up overnight after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

But starting this week, casinos may only operate legally in four remote regions of the country, each of them at least 1,000 kilometers from Moscow. The designated zones are in the East European outpost of Kaliningrad, along the Azov Sea in the south, in the Altai region of Siberia and in the Far Eastern Primorye region near North Korea and Japan.

Whether these will succeed is another matter. The industry has been reluctant to move to them, given the fact that they are not only remote but largely undeveloped, and few investors will risk relocation during the instability of the current economic downturn.

Critics of the new law also say it will result in a massive increase of illegally operated underground casinos.