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25 Jun, 2008 00:31

Meet Russia’s seaside Vegas-to-be

From July next year Russia's gambling industry will be confined to four remote areas. The southern region of Krasnodar was the first to present its ideas on developing a Russian Las Vegas.

The glittering lights of Moscow's casinos will be switched off for good in just one year. In response to the growing number of gambling addicts, Russian MPs passed a bill in 2006 that will allow casinos to legally operate in just four remote areas. From July next year only Kaliningrad, Altay, the Primorsky region and the border between the Krasnodar and Rostov regions will be able to host gamblers.

Azov City is the name given by the Krasnodar administration to the project to make a fortune on games of chance.

The casino town will be spread over 2,000 hectares and have 50 hotels with a planned 35,000 thousand rooms. It'll even have its own airport and a small port on a specially constructed island for the super-rich arriving in yachts. When it’s finished, Azov City is expected to have a population of around 60,000.

At the moment this is just a blueprint. Today the area chosen to be one of the Russia's gambling zones is but a field of wheat, but investors are already flocking to the shores of the Azov Sea hoping to hit the jackpot.

“We think that this gambling zone will pay for itself really quickly. It's a situation where being late means losing everything,” says businessman Aleksandr Kogan.

There are still many worries though. Experts say that attracting gamblers to the four remote areas, making sure that illegal casinos don't open and the tight deadlines could make projects like Azov City a Russian roulette for investors.

“The casino industry is to shut down on 1 July next year. So that gives us 12 months to put in place quite a serious infrastructure, and the tender process hasn't even begun yet. I think it'll be a year before we'll see construction equipment on site,” said gambling business expert Andrew Gellatly.

Still the authorities are looking to attract about $US 4 billion of investment. They hope Azov City will provide thousands of jobs for the local population and will draw over six million tourists annually.