Russian bookmaker FON has been formally charged with offering illegal online gambling. On Monday, prosecutors in Moscow said the Curacao-licensed FONbet site “provided an opportunity to engage in games of chance for real money and offered various bets, including on sporting events.” FON operates nearly 900 retail points of sale in Russia but local media outlet Ria Novosti reported that its central offices in Moscow were raided last summer as authorities sought evidence linking the company to the online site. The website reportedly reaped profits of RUB 62m (US $1.7m) in just two months last year.
In December, Oleg Zhuravskii, the president of the Russian bookmakers trade association, suggested legislation to formalize a regulated online sports betting market would be ready by February. On Feb. 12, Zhuravskii was among those in attendance at a round table on illegal gambling organized by Ria Novosti.
If one ever doubted that people are people wherever you go, the debate featured arguments well familiar to western gambling proponents. Bookies called for a system favoring Russian companies, lottery officials suggested they should be given an online monopoly and social conservatives warned that such sites could be easily accessed by children and thus they all should be stamped out (the sites, not the children). All that was missing was an appearance by cranky Russian oligarch Sheldonovich Adelski.
SWANKY MOSCOW CASINO BUSTED
Meanwhile, Russia’s war against illegal land-based casinos continues unabated. Moscow police recently shut down a gambling ring that reportedly earned its operators $1.4m. The casino operated out of a house in the northern part of the city disguised as a private club, complete with security personnel and armored doors. When police arrived, one of the operators reportedly set a fire to destroy incriminating documents but was only partially successful. Police detained 20 operators, 30 customers, 60 gambling machines, five poker tables and five roulette tables.
MOSCOW POLICE OFFICIALS CLEARED
Finally, the nearly three-year-old debacle involving former Interior Ministry officials charged with protecting an illegal gambling ring in Moscow came to a conclusion this week after the Investigative Committee dropped all charges against Farit Temirgaliyev and Mikhael Kulikov. The pair were arrested in 2011 on suspicion of accepting $225k in bribes to warn illegal casino operators of imminent police raids. In December, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that the arrests of the two men were unlawful. Kommersant reported that the two former cops – who spent over a year in pre-trial detention – are seeking reinstatement and compensation for 18 months’ lost wages. Meanwhile, the man accused of doling out their bribes, Ivan Nazarov, pled guilty in December in order to qualify for an amnesty program.