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17 May, 2010 02:23

Russian poker ban turns out to be a bluff

In July Russia banned poker along with other casino games, restricting gambling to four remote parts of the country. However, according to police reports, the ban has failed to work so far.

Since the ban, officials say the number of poker dens has actually gone up. Novy Arbat Street in central Moscow was a gamblers’ hub before the ban. According to official reports, it still is now.

Officers have told RT it is only the neon lights that have gone, while games continue in Novy Arbat casinos. Police complain they lack the resources to control all these new crimes.

“We just raided a giant poker ring in the center of Moscow,” said Major Irina Volk. “They had CCTV all around the premises. People needed passwords to get in, had to go through several iron doors, then were searched before being allowed to play.”

In February, authorities also banned the sport’s governing body, the Russian Sports Poker Federation, but its head is openly defiant.

“I heard something about the ruling. But no one notified me personally, so I can’t say – did it take place or not?” said Dmitry Lesnoy, president of the Russian Sports Poker Federation.

Vladimir Putin said gambling addiction is worse than alcoholism, crippling young and old people alike. There are stories to prove his words.

“I played away my savings, then the money I borrowed. My wife left me after 7 months. There are 4 stages in a gambler’s life – you win some, then come big losses, desperation, and an early grave,” said Fyodor.

But there is another angle. On April 29, the International Olympic Committee recognized poker as a game of skill. Some now want to make it an Olympic event.

Poker pro Alex Kostritsin has won millions of dollars in tournaments. He says blame bad players, not the sport.

“Most players, they cannot control their emotions. The government saw people getting upset, being unhappy at losing their money, so they think it’s a game of luck, we’re going to ban that. But actually, it’s not,” said Kostritsin.

With internet poker still legal and neighboring countries with casinos only a short flight away, the failure of the ban on poker might be staring the government in the face.