Russia’s ongoing economic slowdown has brought both hammer and sickle down on casinos in neighboring Belarus.
Russia’s economy has been laid low by a combination of low oil prices and sanctions imposed by western nations following Russia’s military misadventures in the Ukraine. The ruble lost half its value last year and casinos in Belarus’ capital Minsk can be considered collateral damage of Russia’s economic implosion.
Casinos in Minsk became a popular destination for Russian gamblers after Vladimir Putin banished casino gambling to a number of geographically remote designated gaming zones in 2009. A thriving junket business emerged as Russian high-rollers took advantage of Minsk’s proximity – 90 minutes from Moscow by plane – and the fact that Russians don’t require visas to travel to Belarus.
Fast forward to today and many Minsk casinos are struggling to fill casino table seats. Helen Keane, general manager of the Shangri La casino, told The Guardian that 80% of her casino’s customers are Russians. But right now there’s a lot fewer of them making the trip, while those who do show up have a lot less money in their pockets than before.
Shangri La patron and Moscow developer Andrei Sergeyev used to come to Minsk casinos once a month, spending $10k per night at the tables. His most recent trip was his first in six months and he planned to spend just $1k. At the Casino Royal, Moscow business consultant Alexander Isayenko said Russian gamblers had “disappeared” since the economic crisis began.
Keane, a 30-year casino industry veteran, said business at the Shangri La is off 10% to 20% since the Russian economy went south but a sharper focus on cost control had mitigated much of the fallout. Other Minsk venues had been harder hit, with five casinos – the Bakara, Millennium, Mirage, Victoria and Zolotoi Arbuz – having shut their doors so far this year. (Is ‘Minsk’ a Belarusian word for Atlantic City?)
Keane suggested the carnage might not yet be over, with other smaller casinos and slots halls teetering on the brink. By the time the smoke clears, Keane believes Minsk will be left with just a few high-end gambling joints.