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BettingExpert exit Russia; did Opera’s built-in VPN rile censors?

TAGs: Bettingexpert.com, opera software, roskomnadzor, Russia, virtual private networks, VPN

bettingexpert-opera-russiaOnline sports betting affiliate BettingExpert has withdrawn from the Russian market after its website was blocked by the country’s communications watchdog.

On Thursday, the Twitter account of BettingExpert’s Russian-language site announced that it was exiting Russia. The account said a full announcement would be released “in the coming days” but justified the exit as being prompted by the realization that “the current situation in the Russian market is not very interesting.”

BettingExpert began a Russian-language service in 2013 but its site was blocked this July by the Roskomnadzor telecom overseer, which has blocked thousands of actual gambling domains – including a whopping 979 between November 14-21 – since it was granted new powers in October 2015. Roskomnadzor has also targeted sites for promoting or facilitating online gambling, including many online operators’ social media accounts.

BettingExpert isn’t the only ones bidding Russia do svidaniya. On Tuesday, Opera Software, the Norwegian company behind the Opera online browser, announced that they were closing their Russian office on November 30, allegedly due to a decline in local revenue having made the office’s continued operation no longer viable.

But Opera may have had other reasons to get out of Dodge. On Monday, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that Opera staff had met with Roskomnadzor in September regarding the possibility of filtering sites the Russian government doesn’t want its people accessing.

The timing of that meeting is interesting, given that it coincided with the release of Opera 40, which added unlimited virtual private network (VPN) technology within the browser for the first time. VPN technology has proven popular with gamblers in more restrictive jurisdictions due to its ability to circumvent site-blocking by internet service providers.

The September meeting ended without any formal agreement between Opera and Roskomnadzor but the pressure to join the censorship brigade may have led Opera to conclude that having a physical presence inside Russia wasn’t so much of a plus anymore.

Opera, which recently announced that it had sold its browser business to a Chinese consortium in a $600m deal that is expected to close in Q3 2017, claims its web and mobile browsers have an estimated 55m users, of which around 40% are in Russia and the former Soviet republics that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States. Liveinternet stats show a slightly more modest presence, with Opera used by around 9.2m Russians.

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