Illegal Russian Casinos Just Part of the Gaming Picture

Posted on: July 20, 2013, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: October 10, 2013, 02:39h.

The old coal mining adage that “I owe my soul to the company store” has taken on bizarre meaning with the recent discovery of an underground immigrant slave garment manufacturing “village” in Moscow, replete with an equally illegal casino.  The underground town – which held 200 Asian workers held captive against their will – was discovered by police in yet another raid, one of many of hundreds to take place throughout Russia; a country where gambling, like vodka, seems to be in the genes (not to mention, jeans).

Just Say Nyet to Gambling

Massive police raids of the country’s underground (not always literally) casinos have led to some 662 shutdowns to date, while the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow office says that an ancillary special ops task force has slammed the doors on 4,747 joints that were supplying illegal moonshine liquor, to the tune of 31 tons of booze in all. Your livers will thank you later, Russkies.

The casino Prohibition-style cloud that hangs over Russia started back in summer of 2009; that’s when gambling in all but four somewhat hard-to-access designated gambling regions were pronounced as illegal gambling zones. (We’re pretty sure booze isn’t illegal anywhere there, but maybe nothing short of ethyl alcohol will give their jaded livers a jolt anymore).

Hey Big Spender

And while Russia’s average-guy take home pay – just under $21,000 – is below the average American’s (even in post-Soviet Capitalist Russia), gambling, whether legal or not, remains a budget staple, with the average Russian spending $170 per year on wagering activities. That’s according to Global Betting and Gaming Consultants CEO Warwick Bartlett, who told Bloomberg News in a recent interview that that’s twice the global average of $82. Makes it easier to understand why major casino moguls like China’s Lawrence Ho is willing to risk big bucks in one of the new legal zones near Vladivostock, despite a rather frigid clime much of the year, and a somewhat scary proximity to the North Korean border.

Legal gaming development has become such a big topic in Russia that they’re even doing something as Western as an actual gambling conference.  The 2013 Russian Gaming Week conference and exhibition kicks off on Nov. 27 and 28. Hot agenda items will include marketing of online gambling sites, developing affiliates, and sports betting (presumably on ice hockey). The gaming conference will take place in Minsk, Belarus, which is home to its own “Mirage” casino – definitely not part of the MGM network of stars.