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1 Jul, 2009 05:03

One-armed bandits hauled off

A new ban has come into force on Wednesday, ordering casinos in Russia to shut down. Gambling will now be restricted to four far-flung special zones which are still under construction.

The cry of “no more bets please” can be heard throughout Russia. RT looks at what happens now that the industry has been forced to cash in so many of its chips.

Party’s over

The flashing lights, the slot machines and other casino paraphernalia have now become a thing of the past in all Russian cities, big and small. For both those who spent and earned their living inside casinos, gamblers and workers alike, the party’s now over.

“I’ve been working in the industry for almost 17 years,” said Aleksandr Prispeshkin, former casino pit-boss who is now unemployed. He used to work in a Moscow casino, before it was closed several days ago under the strict new gambling laws.

“I cannot imagine working somewhere else, so I’m literally being thrown out in the street”.

Aleksandr and others working in the gambling industry face a gamble of their own: either retrain and learn new skills if they want to stay in Moscow, or else move to where casinos remain legal.

Russian Las Vegas

From July 1, casinos have been ordered out of Russia’s residential areas and into special gambling zones. Besides massive layoffs within the industry, it brings changes for thousands of gamblers. Now they’ll have to take a throw the dice somewhere else.

One of the cities they could move to is Azov, one of the four future gambling zones planned for the country. Developers have ambitious plans for a Russian Las Vegas.

The nearby village of Molchanovka had a tiny population of just 20. Now it’s growing again. The new casino town will provide water, gas and phone lines for the whole neighborhood.

“Azov City” will be a fully autonomous zone with its own roads, airport, railway line, restaurants and hotels. Now the place looks like one big construction site, with work expected to finish in six to twelve months.

“It’s too early for Azov City to compete with foreign gambling zones, but local ecology and infrastructure make it possible to become equally developed over time,” believes Yury Pozharov, Azov City’s technical director.

Government’s firm decision

The State Duma’s decision to move casinos out of residential areas was made in 2006. Surveys suggested that Russians were concerned with crime and compulsive gambling and were worried about youth becoming addicted to slot machines.

Gradual relocation was envisaged, so casino owners and employees could make alternative arrangements over time. But not many opted to move to the new gambling zones, possibly believing that the government might back down and not implement the plan after all. But this is one gamble that has not paid off – the law didn’t go away.

Will that help?

Gamblers seem to have mixed feelings. Some believe the casino ban will help addiction problems, while others say it won’t stop those who choose to gamble illegally.

“Many of my friends lost fortunes in casinos,” said Roman who is a gambler.

“So it’s good there will be no more gambling spots around. But then again, if you want to go on, you and your friends can always gather at some dacha to gamble”.

As casinos shut, many of the buildings housing them are changing hands or are being renovated. Some will become poker clubs, not affected by the new laws, while others will add to Moscow’s choice of dining spots.

Former casino manager Dmitry Kondratov is hoping to restore “the good old” Angara restaurant that was at the site before the casino.

“It will attract more customers. I think when it comes to revenues it will still be a profitable enterprise,” he said.

As one-armed bandits leave Russian cities, it’s unclear whether the change will rid the towns entirely of the dark side of gambling. While some say there’ll be less crime, others worry that problems will merely be pushed deeper underground.

Read also Gambling business becomes extinct in Russia