Gambling Halls Shut By Police - Friday 19th of June 2009

With less than two weeks left before a July 1 ban on gambling in Moscow, police have started closing gaming halls as part of a citywide crackdown.

More than 200 officers with the polices economic crimes department have checked about 100 gambling establishments over the past week and have closed 50, said Filipp Zolotnitsky, a spokesman for the polices economic crimes department.

The closed establishments are suspected of tax evasion, fraud and operating without a proper license, Zolotnitsky said Wednesday.

He declined to identify them, citing the ongoing investigations, but he said they were small.

Police confiscated slot machines from 30 of the establishments, RIA-Novosti reported.

Zolotnitsky said the checks for violations would continue -- even past July 1 if needed -- in an indication that the police dont expect all gambling establishments to close as required.

"There will be more checks," he said. "If needed, more checks will be held after July 1."

Last week, Deputy Moscow Mayor Sergei Baidakov told reporters that all of the citys more than 500 gambling establishments would be closed by the deadline.

Under a federal law passed in 2006, gambling will be confined from July 1 to designated zones in Kaliningrad, Siberias Altai region, the Far East and on the southern Sea of Azov.

Any delay implementing the gambling ban promises to provoke a sharp response from the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev told Federal Tax Service chief Mikhail Mokretsov last month that he would tolerate no delays in moving all gambling to the regional zones. "There will be no revisions, no pushing back -- despite the lobbying efforts of various businesses," Medvedev said on May 5.

But Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov warned Wednesday that the project "hasnt succeeded yet" because the zones were not ready to welcome casinos. "It is connected to the crisis and other circumstances," Shatalov said, RIA-Novosti reported. "For example, in the Far East and Kaliningrad, local authorities havent decided where the zones will be set up yet."

He said regions where gambling will be banned will lose 5 billion to 6 billion rubles ($160 million to $200 million) a year in revenues from their budgets.

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