Russia, Sochi, Crimea, gambling zones

The former Olympic venues in Sochi could eventually become home to casinos. (Image: Getty)

While it’s still uncertain exactly how the Crimean crisis will play out, Russia has moved quickly to show that they have plans for the peninsula. Almost since pro-Russian forces began to take control there, Moscow has made noise about turning the area into another gambling zone for their nation. But as it turns out, that’s not the only newsworthy location that Russia feels could use casino gambling.

The Russian Duma has passed legislation that would create two new gambling zones: one in Crimea, and one in Sochi, the resort city that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics just months ago. They would join a group of four other regions and territories that are currently permitted to establish casino gambling.

New Zones Join Four Established Gambling Areas

“The creation of a gambling zone in the Republic of Crimea will help attract additional investment in the region, create new jobs and replenish the revenue base of the regional budget,” said Anatoly Karpov, who sits on the Duma’s Economic Policy, Innovation Development and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Gambling zones have been a major part of Russia’s strategy for handing the gaming industry. In 2009, most forms of gambling were outlawed throughout the nation. However, four gambling zones were created where casinos and other gaming venues would be allowed. So far, one (Azov City) has built a gambling complex, while zones in Kaliningrad, Primorye and Altai have yet to establish such venues.

The move to include Sochi as a potential gambling zone didn’t come completely out of nowhere. The idea was floated around the time of the Olympics as a way to continue to attract tourism there. However, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was said to be against the idea at the time, which made its approval now a surprise.

On the other hand, the addition of gambling to Crimea is an announcement many have expected from Moscow for some time now. According to politicians, the idea is to create a boost for the struggling Crimean economy.

“You can expect an increase in the flow of tourists to the region, the development of the hotel business and food service,” said Karpov, the former World Chess Champion who famously battled Garry Kasparov in a series of matches in the 1980s.

Sochi May Be Best Bet

But while Russia may be focusing on Crimea for both political and economic reasons, some analysts believe that Sochi is actually the more sensible location for casinos in the long run.

“The infrastructure built in Sochi due to the recent Winter Olympics held there is significant and would support tourism growth,” Jonathan Galaviz of Global Market Advisors LLC told GGRAsia. “It would be important for Sochi to approach the casino gaming issue in the same way Vladivostok did – with transparency and structure.”

Originally, the draft bill that was sent to the Russian parliament in April only sought to establish a gambling zone in Crimea, a move that came almost immediately after Moscow declared the region would become a part of Russia. The Sochi gambling zone was only added by legislators during the bill’s second reading. Under the terms of the bill, gaming venues would only be allowed in Olympic facilities that were privately financed by investors.