Casinos and slot-machine halls shut down across Russia yesterday as a new law took effect that imposes sweeping new restrictions on the gaming industry. Tens of thousands of people are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the law, which was signed in 2006 by then-president Vladimir Putin in a bid to contain gambling addiction.
“The hall will be closed as of 7pm on June 30, 2009,” said the notice on one shuttered slot-machine hall in northern Moscow.
Other casinos were expected to refashion themselves into poker clubs under a quirk of Russian law that officially recognizes poker as a sport rather than a game of chance. The law marks the end of era, putting an end to the days when businessmen and gangsters who acquired fantastic wealth in the chaotic 1990s gambled it away in lavish casinos in central Moscow.
A special task force to ensure compliance with the law has been set up in the Russian capital, a spokeswoman for the Moscow city government, Maria Sokolova, told RIA-Novosti news agency.
Starting yesterday casinos may only operate in four remote regions of Russia, each of them at least 1,000km from Moscow and some much further.
The four designated legal gambling zones are in Russia’s western Kaliningrad exclave; 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.
But the gaming industry has been reluctant to move there, given the regions’ undeveloped infrastructure and difficulty of attracting customers to the far-flung locations.
The gambling law is expected to have the biggest impact In Moscow, which had 524 casinos and gaming halls until the law took effect, and in Saint Petersburg, which had 109.
Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has told Russians they must kick the alcohol habit.
“We drink more now than in the 1990s, although those were difficult times,” the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Medvedev as saying on Tuesday.
Health Minister Tatyana Golikova has been ordered to devise an anti-alcohol strategy. “We need to prepare a corresponding program and take appropriate measures,” Medvedev said.
A report in The Lancet medical journal last week said that alcohol-related diseases caused around half of all deaths of Russians between the ages of 15 and 54.