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31 Aug, 2010 03:05

Russian authorities struggle to market legal gambling zones

After some failed attempts to relocate gambling spots to designated zones, Russia is considering building a family-friendly casino resort in the more popular holiday area near the Black Sea.

Azov city is a gambler’s paradise. The “Oracul” resort offers all kinds of games: from the army of one-armed-bandits to poker and roulette. However, despite all its pleasures, the place remains deserted most of the time.

“Oracul” is the only legal casino in Russia. A private company invested $10 million into its construction. Even though there are a few other investors who are willing to build gambling spots in the Azov area, most in the industry believe the odds are not in their favor.

Last year Russian lawmakers banned all casinos and gambling clubs across the country, replacing them with four specially designated development zones in Siberia, Western Russia, the South and the East. The industry reacted immediately by shutting down the facilities, moving them abroad, or going underground. Even the relatively more successful gambling zone, in the South, is mostly being ignored by the entrepreneurs.

Most investors are passive, mainly because Azov city is far from major transportation hubs,” explained Aleksey Vostrikov, “Azov City” manager. “The local airport is underdeveloped, and the roads are not that good either. And the other factor is that the gambling ban in Russia is really hard to enforce.”

In cities only a few hundred kilometers away from Azov, police continue to discover illegal gambling dens every week.

Of course, it is officially prohibited, but in our neighborhood everyone knows where to find the underground gambling den – you can have a good time there if you play your cards right,” said gambler Artur.

The region’s authorities have suggested relocating the whole Southern gambling zone closer to the Black Sea coast as a way of attracting more punters. Inspired by Las Vegas, the authorities also want it to offer more than just gambling.

So we said: ‘Why can’t we try and do something like that in Russia, without making the same mistakes?’ We can use the best that Las Vegas has to offer, refined by decades of experience,” said Kransnodar region’s Deputy Governor, Aleksey Agafonov. “Essentially, we’ve come up with a new concept – a family resort where gambling will be just one of the highlights.”

The idea will have to receive support from the Russian State Duma. But for now, the future of Russia’s own Las Vegas looks dim, leaving more questions than answers for its supporters and skeptics alike.