Poker to be exiled to gambling zones

Playing poker in Russia is now officially a gamble. The government says the card game is not a sport so could soon be exiled to the country’s four special gambling zones.

The respective order was posted on the official website of the Russian Ministry of Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy on Tuesday.

“To make a change to the Russian Sports Register [RSR] as approved by order â„– 22 of the Russian State Committee for Physical Education and Sports dated January 15, 2004, by excluding sport poker as a sport from the RSR,” the order says.

The document cancelled the order by the Federal Agency for physical education and sport in effect since March 26, 2007, recognizing “sport poker” as a sport.

Russia’s Minister of Sports, Tourism and Youth Policy Vitaly Mutko told Vedomosti newspaper that “there’s no sport poker as a sport.” According to him, there were violations when including poker into the list of kinds of sport.

“Poker as a sport did not hold any official scheduled events in the last three years. Also, the sport status of poker should be confirmed either by the Russian Sports Federation, or by the Russian Ministry of Sport,” explains deputy Sports Minister Natalya Parshikova.

The government’s methods are too radical, suggests Dmitry Lesnoy, the head of the Federation of Poker.

“As far as I understand, the government has decided to stop this process in Moscow, because a lot of casinos started to ‘re-equip’ as poker clubs,” Lesnoy told RT. “But they chose such a radical way. The authorities are using surgical methods instead of therapeutic ones. I don’t understand why poker players have to suffer, because I have always believed that poker is like chess or bridge – the game is among the most intelligent in the world.”

The Russian economy will lose from this recent legislation put in place, says Artur Voskanyan, vice president of the Russian Sport Poker Federation.

“Not too big, because we still have oil and other goods,” Voskanyan told RT. “Poker is not just gambling. It’s a game of skills, and scientists have proved it many years ago. It’s the game to bring money to this country, a way to bring tourists here. The situation is really terrible because now the government has cut this away.”

Meanwhile, on July 1, all casinos in Russia were shut down under a new gambling law. All Russian game centers now have to move to specially designated zones, although none of them have been built in time.

Poker is not the first kind of sport which has come under tighter regulation. Last week a draft law was brought into the Russian State Duma which tightened the requirements for totalizators and betting offices in Russia.