TV and London Offer Gambling Fix - Friday 24th of July 2009

A week after gambling was banned in Moscow, viewership for televised poker shows is climbing, a London casino is offering to send private jets for big-spending gamblers and gambling addicts are calling a hotline to complain that they can still find places to bet.

A federal law banished casinos and slot machines to four far-flung Russian regions last Wednesday, and 95 percent of casinos and slot machine halls had removed their equipment by Monday morning, Deputy Mayor Sergei Baidakov told RIA-Novosti.

Police are on the lookout for illegal establishments, and a raid at the Luzhniki market Saturday led to the confiscation of 18 slot machines, he said.

Police were called Monday to a Zolotoi Arbuz slot machine hall near the Petrovsko-Razumovskaya metro station that was continuing to operate in defiance of the ban, City FM reported.

The ban does not apply to lotteries, bookmakers and poker clubs, leading to predictions that the popularity of poker will soar. Ren-TV television started a poker show called “Poker Stars” in October last year and saw its audience grow over the season, spokesman Anton Nazarov said. “There’s no doubt that the predicted growth of interest in poker as a sport in our country will attract new viewers,” Nazarov said.

Television is “one of the best ways to market poker,” said Erik Shakhbazyan, CEO of Poker Style Group, which broadcasts a twice-weekly show on television channel Sport. Ratings are “very good,” he said.

But Shakhbazyan was skeptical about gamblers switching to poker en masse.

“Of course new players will come to poker who used to go to casinos, but not a big number,” he said. “Poker is a more intellectual game. To play slot machines, you don’t need to know anything.”

Kommersant reported Monday that CTC Media was planning a television show about poker with French-owned production company Intelegencia. But CTC Media’s general producer, Vyacheslav Murugov, said the plans had been frozen. “A little time ago, our holding held talks with the company Intelegencia on this question, but at the moment we have halted this process,” he said, without elaborating.

Moscow City Hall has set up a hotline for people to report on illegal gambling at (495) 633-6262. An operator who answered Monday afternoon said she had received 40 calls so far that day.

“It’s either people who notice that something is open, or [gambling] addicts themselves call up to say they thought that everything would be closed but they see that it’s not the case,” she said.

She said that addicts complained because they thought would be able to give up because there would be nowhere to bet, but that has not turned out to be true.

In his first remarks since the ban came into effect, President Dmitry Medvedev likened gambling to drug addiction in a speech shown by video link at the Seliger camp for pro-Kremlin youth activists over the weekend.

“In our country, unfortunately in the years of our new life, a huge quantity of gambling establishments were created where people spent hours frittering away their money,” Medvedev said. “This kind of addiction is very similar to drug dependence, and our task today is to create modern conditions so that such a business can only exist in restricted gaming zones.”

Meanwhile, a London casino, Les Ambassadeurs Club, has reacted to the ban by putting together a package aimed specifically at Russian high-rollers. Gamblers can pay from $8,000 per person to fly from Moscow by private jet and then be chauffeured to the casino, said the club’s spokesman, James Black. “Obviously, with the casino closures in Moscow, those who want to play roulette and traditional casino games can be interested,” Black said. “We’re happy if the big players from Moscow want to come.”

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