There was talk last year, during the initial heat of the financial crisis, that Russia’s four Las Vegas-style gambling zones would not go ahead, due to concerns over how they were going to be funded. Despite attempts by the Ministry of Economic Development to reverse the decision, the original July 1st deadline by which all casinos and slot machine halls need to be shut down still holds, despite the fact that, according to The Independent, only 17 of over 500 Moscow venues have closed.
Sergei Baidakov, the Deputy Mayor of Moscow, told reporters last week that any casino that failed to shut down by the end of the month would face legal action, and suggested that most casinos would become shops or restaurants.
The minor problem is that none of these zones is yet ready for operation. Indeed, building and construction work has not even started, according to reports. One Russian publication sent a reporter to check out progress on one of the zones, who discovered open fields filled with grazing cows.
So it looks as though the law will be implemented, but there will be nothing for gambling operators to fall back on. The question remains, why was the suspension rushed through, despite the fact that the gambling zones have not been prepared? And the answer may be, strangely enough, related to a convoluted desire to scupper the Georgian mafia…(?).
One theory is that the ban is the result of an anti-Georgian campaign that spiralled out of control. Many casinos are rumoured to be controlled by Georgian mafia figures, and some were raided during a political spat between Russia and Georgia in 2006. It was at that time that the then-President Vladimir Putin first proposed the law.