In November 2012, the Russian supreme court made Internet service providers (ISP) responsible for blocking gambling sites inside the country. However, no concerted effort was made to enforce the legislation until March 21st 2014, when Russia’s federal telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor reported a directive was received from the prosecutor’s office demanding its list of blacklisted gambling websites be blocked.
As a result, more than 50 gaming websites have now been blocked from offering their products in Russia, including major gambling sites Pokerstars, Ladbrokes, SportingBet, UniBet, Betway and TitanPoker.
Russia has a vast population of 143 million people with the country’s poker players making up a large proportion of the online poker market. Following announcement of the measures now being pursued by Russian authorities, poker players around the world are naturally concerned this could deal the biggest blow to the online poker ecosystem since American players exited the global market on Black Friday.
The original supreme court ruling made it illegal to “disseminate information that is restricted in accordance with Russian law, including, but not limited to, on gambling.” Nevertheless, just the gambling websites were blocked, thus allowing canny players to bypass the ban by going through other Domain Name Systems, such as Google. The latest Russian Internet service providers to block the gambling websites, namely Rostelecom, MTS, and Dom.ru, have raised concerns amongst online poker players that the country’s authorities will soon try to implement a ban on the gambling sites’ software as well.
The uncertain situation is already having a profound effect on the approach of gambling operators to the Russian market, many of whom have decided to cut and run, including Betclic, EverestPoker and Bet-at-home. Unibet Group, too, has stopped accepting new Russian players, with a company statement, explaining:
“Unibet has taken the decision to temporarily close registrations from Russia. This means that it will no longer be possible for customers from Russia to sign up on Unibet.com or Maria.com. This change will take place immediately, but will not affect existing customers. It will also still be possible for customers to sign up from all other Russian-speaking countries and those markets should not be affected at all. Russia will no longer be listed as an option for country of residence on the registration form of Unibet.com or Maria.com.”
Optimistic analyst have expressed the hope that Russia’s latest move may simply be an isolated incident. Unfortunately, this view does not seem to reflect that of the majority, with Gaming Intelligence stating that “while a limited number of gaming domains currently appear on the list, it is believed that this is the start of a much wider crackdown on online gambling.”
How the situation unfold from here on is anyone’s guess, but Russia’s move has raised a great deal of consternation for the poker industry, which already has been suffering continuing declines since the US DoJ implemented its own shut down on Black Friday in 2011.