Russia may be keen to roll out the welcome mat for resort-casino developers interested in building a facility near the far east port of Vladivostok, but gambling outside this area, or the country’s three other distant and largely inaccessible gambling-approved zones, is strictly in the ‘nyet nyet Soviet’ category. Last week, RIA Novosti reported that the authorities shut down (n)yet another underground casino in downtown Moscow, confiscating poker tables, four roulette wheels and 34 gaming machines. The gaming joint’s organizers reportedly remain at large. (Just a thought, but have they looked in Poland?) Russia has closed over 4k illegal casinos and over 25k ‘gambling parlors’ since the laws were changed in 2009.
Of course, online gambling is only ever as far away as one’s computer or mobile device, but even that might prove a bet too far for Russian punters. The country’s Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court’s ruling that let internet service providers off the hook for failing to block access to online gambling sites. The original case was heard in Pskov City Court, near the border with Estonia. The authorities had threatened to send the operators of ISP Rostelecom to the gulag if it didn’t IP-block gambling sites, but the court in Pskov ruled that while online gambling was prohibited, there was nothing in the law criminalizing merely providing access to online gambling.
But on Oct. 9, the Supreme Court determined that compliance with content restrictions could be a requirement for ISP licensing. While ISPs had previously waited until an offending site was officially put on a Justice Ministry blacklist – which currently contains some 1,534 sites deemed to have broken the country’s ‘extremism’ law – Baker & McKenzie attorney Anton Maltsev told the Moscow Times that the Supreme Court ruling could leave ISPs subject to license revocation if they fail to get proactive by blocking sites they know the authorities are likely to disapprove of.
Worse, the Supreme Court broadened the ‘naughty’ list to include “the dissemination of information related to the implementation of activities of gambling,” which makes it “necessary to disconnect even sites that contain only information about gambling portals.” (You know, like the one you’re reading right now. What happened to you, Putin? You used to be cool.) We can’t help but think this is an overreaction to the ongoing National Hockey League labor dispute, and the fear that all those Russian players who usually spend a good part of the year in North America will now be spending the winter in frigid Mother Russia with a lot of time and money on their hands. See what you’ve done, Bettman?