Back in 2009, Russia passed laws targeting the country’s numerous unauthorized casinos and has since shut down more than 4,000 illegal casinos, as well as 25,000 gambling parlors. The idea was to restrict any gambling activities inside Russia to the country’s four state approved but largely inaccessible gaming zones.
Online gambling, on the other hand, had continued to be a bit of a grey area, especially poker where the skill element differentiates it from other gambling games. Therefore there was no law in place criminalizing simply providing access to online gambling and thus large number of Russian punters are still present on many online gambling sites, including PokerStars.
However, that all seems set to change after Russia’s Supreme Court has overruled an earlier lower court’s ruling, now putting the burden on ISPs to block offending sites. Previously, ISPs took their cues from the Justice Ministry blacklist to determine which sites fell into the ‘offenders’ list. Up until this moment there has been over 1,500 Russian websites banned with most politically inclined and contravening the country’s “extremism law.” Gambling websites, by contrast, had so far been able to avoid the authorities’ attention with many Russian players able to visit European-licensed online gambling sites.
That blacklist has since been broadened to include those sites which simply provide information on gambling portals, and any ISP provider not blocking gambling sites consequently stands the risk of having their license revoked. This could all spell trouble for the local online gambling industry which has benefited greatly from having access to the Russia and its population of 142 million people.
According to Barker & McKenzie lawyer Anton Maltsev:”Although internet service providers used to be able to wait until a site appeared on an official blacklist, the ruling implies that they risk going out of business simply by not blocking illegal content..[the ruling implies] that compliance with content restrictions could be a licensing requirement.”