Russian online sports betting operator Fonbet has registered an online poker domain, offering hopes that Russia may finally lift its longstanding ban on the activity.
On Sunday, Russian sports betting affiliate Bookmaker-Ratings reported that Fonbet had registered two new domains – ruspoker.ru and fontoto.ru – in December. Neither domain appears to be active yet, and there’s good reason for that, at least, when it comes to the former domain.
Russia’s 19 online sports betting licensees are currently barred from offering any other form of online gambling – slots, casino table games and poker – under the gambling rules that Russian legislators approved in 2009. Those rules restricted offline casino gambling to several far-flung regional districts and limited online gambling to sports and race wagering only.
Russia’s few licensed casinos are allowed to offer live tournament poker at their venues. Several western operators – including GVC Holdings’ PartyPoker brand and The Stars Group’s flagship online poker brand PokerStars – have staged live poker events at Sochi casinos in the designated gaming zone of Krasnaya Polyana.
PokerStars’ real-money dot-com site has long relied on a significant number of Russia-based players, although this business has struggled of late following the Russian authorities taking steps to disrupt payment processing to online operators taking action from Russian gamblers without local permission. For years now, The Stars Group has been predicting that Russia’s decision to lower the ban on online poker was imminent, but this poker mirage never seems to get any closer than the horizon.
It’s unclear what inside info, if any, that Fonbet might have regarding the future of online poker in Russia, or whether the company is simply looking to squat on the domain as a contingency play. Like many Russian operators, Fonbet has an international dot-com offshoot that caters to gamblers outside Russia, but it doesn’t currently offer a poker product.
Fonbet is Russia’s dominant online bookmaker, as evidenced by November 2019’s online traffic statistics. According to SimilarWeb data, Fonbet.ru recorded 9.89m visits in November, more than twice the 3.96m visits enjoyed by runner-up Liga Stavok.