It may not be a practice that many of us agree with, but most people are familiar with the concept of cockfighting – fighting roosters against each other in order to gamble on the outcome. You probably also remember dog fighting being in the news (especially when it involved football player Michael Vick). But rats being used for gambling purposes? That’s new to us.
Yet that’s exactly what authorities in Moscow found when they conducted a raid on an illegal gambling venue in the city. Police announced that during a raid of a bookmaker on Novy Arbat Street conducted last month, they came across cages containing roosters, rats, and even insects – all of which they believed were used for gambling inside the venue.
Police didn’t say which establishment the strange collection of animals came from, though they did report also recovering more traditional equipment, including eight computers that contained information on illegal gambling activities.
While there was no identification of the venue targeted in the raid, speculation in the media has fallen on an entertainment complex known as Korona. Earlier this year, The Moscow News ran a piece detailing the activities going on at Korona, which is located on Novy Arbat.
In that report, several animal-based gambling activities were detailed. Cockfighting certainly took place at the venue, though not always in the way most of us would think of it. Rather than fights to injury or to death, each of the birds was equipped with several balloons attached to their neck. Gamblers wagered on which of the birds would keep one of their own balloons unpopped for the longest, with the rooster who had all of his balloons popped first being the loser.
Of course, that’s still far from humane, as the birds don’t know they’re supposed to be aiming at the balloons. Injuries still occurred, though the roosters were separated and caged after the balloons were popped in most cases.
That report also documented the use of rats in gambling, though that was still in the experimental stage. The idea was to race the rats through obstacle courses, eventually reaching a small ball of food at the end of the race. According to an employee, Korona had been testing the races (and the rats) for over a year in order to get a workable system for betting in place. While gamblers could watch the races, they weren’t able to place bets yet at that point.
The unusual forms of betting found at Korona are likely the consequence of Russia’s anti-casino policies that went into effect in 2009. In the decade before then, gambling licenses had been very cheap and easy to obtain, and regulation was almost non-existent. That meant slot machines and other gambling devices could be found just about anywhere, resulting in a multi-billion dollar industry.
But the 2009 regulations restricted casino gambling to just four designated zones. So far, only one – Azov City – has become host to a casino, though that is expected to change in the future. That move led to bookmakers such as Korona stepping into the vacuum in places like Moscow. They’ve expanded their operations to offer a more casino-like experience: for instance, while allowing customers to play poker would be illegal, they can allow visitors to bet on which of several poker hands will win a given hand. Cockfighting and rat races, however, are not – needless to say – among the approved activities.
Since the 2009 law has gone into place, more than 59,000 illegal gambling venues have been raided by police across Russia. However, the National Association of Bookmakers says that at least 800 illegal locations are still operating in Moscow alone.