Russia Moves To Criminalize Online PokerDecember 17, 2014 12:12 pm
Earlier this year there were hopes the Russian Federation was beginning to soften its stance towards online gambling, and was considering opening up its huge market of 143.5 million people to Western firms. At the time, it was estimated that internet poker alone could channel 5 billion rubles ($146 million) each year into government coffers, but then the Ukraine Crisis erupted.
Since then, Russia has not only pulled back from its earlier position, but now seems more determined than ever to criminalize the game, after passing Bill 478806-6 in the State Duma prohibiting anyone from gambling at iPoker sites outside of the country’s four gambling safe zones, or now annexed Crimea and Sochi. Having cleared Russia’s lower house, all that is now required is a rubber-stamp from the Federation Council (upper house) for the bill to become effective immediately.
The draconian bill proposes that any operators offering illegal gambling products inside Russia should face hefty million ruble fines, as well as the prospect of four years behind bars, while individuals caught playing could also be subjected to a 500,000 ruble ($7,625) penalty and up to two years in jail. As Bill 478806-6, an amendment to the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code, states:
“Organization and (or) conducting gambling with play equipment outside the gambling area, or by using information and telecommunications networks, including the Internet, as well as means of communication, including mobile communications, or without obtaining permission in accordance with established procedure on the activity of the organization and conduct of gambling in the gambling zone is punishable by a fine up to five hundred thousand rubles or the salary or other income for a period of one to three years, or by compulsory works for a period of one hundred eighty to two hundred forty hours, or restraint of liberty for up to four years, or by deprivation sentence of up to two years.”
Following announcement of the new bill’s passing, some analysts have started questioning the timing of the restrictive bill, with some suggesting it is an attempt to deflect attention away from the accusations of corruption blighting Putin and his inner circle. Apparently, over the years billions of dollars have been channeled into Putin’s top aides’ pockets, and an alleged $28 billion into his own, and so his crusade against gambling can therefore be seen as an attempt to cultivate his domestic image as a tough, moral leader, even as pressure continues to mount on the Russian economy.