“Very large” int’l bookmaker to launch Russia-licensed site in April


russia-international-online-sports-betting-operatorA major Western online sports betting operator is preparing to launch a Russian-licensed site in April, according to those in the know.

On Wednesday, Sport24.ru quoted Paruyr Shahbazyan, head of Russian online betting affiliate Bookmaker Ratings, saying his little birds had told him that “a very large international bookmaker will start working in Russia” next month.

At present, Russia has issued 16 online betting licenses but only one of these has gone to a Western betting brand. Bwin.ru, the Russian-licensed site of GVC Holdings’ Bwin brand, launched in November 2017 via a joint venture with local companies Digital Betting LLC and Rambler & Co.

Shahbazyan played coy with the identity of the operator he expects to launch in April, saying only that the company will also enlist the help of a local partner. Shahbazyan further claimed that two additional Western betting brands would launch Russian-licensed operations before the year was through.

Speculation was already running high that UK online betting giant Bet365 was prepping a Russian joint venture, especially after the company began advertising for ‘Russian language customer service advisors,’ setting a March 8 deadline for interested applicants to submit their CVs.

Last month, Russian affiliate Legalbet reported that William Hill was dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on its Russian-licensed venture, although the unidentified Hills rep they spoke to tempered expectations somewhwat by claiming that the launch could come “the day after tomorrow or in three years.”

Despite the Bwin brand’s high visibility, Bwin.ru has so far struggled to make much headway with Russian punters. However, Russia’s government continues to make things difficult for international sites serving Russian punters without local permission, and locally licensed bookies could get a serious boost if Russia follows through with its plan to erect a ‘walled garden’ around its domestic ‘Runet’ internet.

Russia recently ramped up enforcement of its new payment processing laws, which restrict financial institutions from conducting business with blacklisted companies. Earlier this month, Russian media reported that the popular Yandex.Money payment option was disappearing from many internationally licensed gambling sites known to have a large Russian following.

Last month, Russian media outlet Vedomosti estimated total Russian market betting turnover at RUB1.15t (US$17.5b) in 2018, a 70% year-on-year improvement. The numbers got a boost from Russia’s hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, during which Russian punters reportedly wagered a total of RUB250b.

There’s some debate over how much of this turnover was handled by Russian-licensed betting sites. Some stats for 2017 claimed 60% of turnover was handled by Russian operators, while other surveys put the figure as low as 15%.