Gambling Ban Now Covers Poker in Russia - Tuesday 28th of July 2009

When Russia carried out sweeping restrictions on gambling this month, closing thousands of casinos and slots parlors, their owners grasped at a small loophole. Poker was legally classified as a sport, giving some the prospect of curbing their losses by becoming private poker clubs.

This week, though, the Kremlin essentially said not so fast.

Russian officials announced that an error was made in 2007 when poker was added to the list of official sports. As a result, poker clubs will also be illegal under the antigambling law.

The ban, which took effect on July 1, was promoted by Vladimir V. Putin, the former president and current prime minister, who said casinos and slots parlors had proliferated in post-Soviet Russia and were a social blight.

Casino owners had long predicted that Mr. Putin would not go through with it, especially with the financial crisis damaging the Russian economy. But he did not let up, and the industry says the ban has left more than 400,000 people unemployed.

Samuil Binder, deputy executive director of the Russian Association for Gaming Business Development, said Wednesday that the decision to no longer classify poker as a sport underscored the haphazard regulation of gambling in general.

“It’s hard to understand the logic and decisions of dilettantes,” Mr. Binder said. “We have a really silly situation in Russia — it is total chaos.”

He said his association’s members had obtained 70 sports poker licenses in Russia, all of which would now be nullified.

Under the antigambling law, casinos and other such facilities can relocate to four remote regions in Russia. But none of the regions are prepared, so no casinos are expected to open soon.

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