Russia Seeks to Criminalize Online PokerPublished December 22, 2014 by Elana K
A bill to criminalize online poker was just passed in the Russian government's lower house; it must now go on to the upper house to receive full ratification.
The hopes of opening up the Russian market to the international online gaming industry are on the way to being dashed. This December, Russia's State Duma (lower house) passed a bill forbidding anyone from playing online poker outside of Russia's four designated areas. The bill will now proceed to the Federation Council (upper house), and if approved, violators can face hefty fines as well as jail time.
A Complete Turnaround
In June 2014, it looked as if Russia was considering opening its doors to the Western online gaming industry; the government realized that it could earn billions of rubles by allowing the expansion of this industry. Gaming operators were thrilled at the news; after all, Russia has a market of 143.5 million people.
The 180 degree turn that has taken place between now and June has analysts searching for reasons as to why the new bill was announced, and why it was announced now. Many are saying that the bill was introduced at this time to deflect negative attention away from Putin, who is being accused of corruption. A 2011 report said of Russian politicians, “Corruption has ceased being a problem in Russia; it has become a system.” Whether this new bill will really deflect attention from Putin has yet to be seen, but it doesn't seem likely. Online poker and corruption are two very different things.
The new bill (which many are calling “Draconian”) would make playing online poker inside Russia a criminal offense, except for the four designated areas. Players face a 500,000 ruble ($7,625) fine or up to two years in prison. Illegal operators, the real big fish who the bill is geared towards, will also face fines of millions of rubles, and up to seven years in prison. Needless to say, the prospect of sitting in a Russian prison is probably enough to deter even the most ambitious operator!