Crimea lies in one of four zones earmarked for gambling, but despite its authorization to build casinos, today no such facilities exist. Crimean Minister of Economic Development Andrei Melnikov says that will change in the coming years.

Crimea Russia casino Yalta

Yalta is best known for the meeting of the “Big Three” in 1945, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin. The local government in Crimea hopes its future historical record includes the implementation of casinos. (Image: AFP)

Responsible for spurring economic development, Melnikov explained recently that Crimea has filed all the appropriate paperwork with the federal government and received approval from President Vladimir Putin to build casinos. Crimea officials will soon start accepting bids from a qualified gaming operators, as well as authorize the development of hotels and various attractions that will assist in creating a casino-centered tourist destination.

The gambling zone is expected to be designated for Yalta, already a popular resort city. But before construction begins, Melnikov says a bridge that covers the Kerch Strait needs to be completed. That project is scheduled to finish in December of 2018.

Dangerous Territory

In 2009, Putin ordered the closure of all casinos and gambling venues throughout the nation. The directive resulted in the loss of more than 300,000 jobs. Then five years later in 2014, just five months after Russia seized control of Crimea from the Ukraine, Putin approved the four gambling zones, with one being the Krasnodar Krai, which contains the Crimea Peninsula.

Since Crimea’s annexation, the peninsula has been the site of “multiple and grave” kidnappings, torture, and murder, according to the United Nations. Crimean citizens who aren’t willing to become Russian citizens have seen their property taken, and that’s fueling the ongoing unrest.

It’s also why Crimea needs to wait for the Kerch Strait bridge to be completed. Currently, the only way to get heavy construction supplies like steel on truck beds to Yalta is from the north across the Ukraine-Crimea border.

The US Department of State is warns US citizens to avoid all travel to Crimea, and says its consular services are “extremely limited.”

Wanted: Casino Companies

Russia isn’t the only country in Eurasia expanding commercial gambling. Japan is as well, but unlike there where every major casino conglomerate is vying for an operating license, interest is low to nonexistent for Russia’s gaming market.

In the Far East gaming zone of Primorsky Krai, an area that was supposed to become Russia’s version of Las Vegas, the “strip” has just one casino. Vacant plots of land were recently auctioned off, but there was no bidding war, as the sale didn’t attract even one single bidder. Lawrence Ho, the billionaire founder of Melco Resorts, recently sold down his stake in Tigre de Cristal, the only casino to open in Primorsky.

Casino development in the two other licensed areas, the Kaliningrad Oblast and Altai Krai, is also nonexistent, save for one casino that has just 350 gaming machines and 14 tables in Kaliningrad.

The unsettled Crimea region, paired with the unpredictable Russian government, is why companies like Las Vegas Sands, MGM, Wynn, and other industry leaders aren’t expected to make a push for a gaming license.