The silence of the wheels
The Roulette wheels have come to a grinding halt. Russia has banned gambling in casinos and gambling halls with effect from 1 July, 2009. This industry had been a booming industry for the last two decades, its total revenues exceeding $ 8 billions.
Gambling started in Russia two decades back when regulators started allowing this officially. Then regulation became so simple that anybody who had a surplus of $50 for obtaining license started a casino on their own. This led to an explosion in gambling in Russia. This took an ugly turn as the industry fell into the hands of and were controlled by criminal gangs. The industry became so pervasive that there were an estimated 360,000 slot machines in Russia, this being the highest in any country, except probably Japan and the United States. Apart from gaming halls, these slot machines spread even to shops and malls across the length and breadth of Russia.
Glittering casinos have become a symbol of prosperity in Russia. Studies show that there are at present about 3 million gambling addicts in the country. Robberies and murders had become quite common due to this proliferation. Public outcry against the uncivilized behavior of gamblers forced the Russian Government to take this drastic step of banning casinos and gambling parlors.
This ban has created yet another problem for the Government. About 400,000 people are jobless. Further, the addicts are finding themselves rudderless. The 2006 idea of allowing gambling in 4 remote zones has not taken off because the Government is not willing to extend any incentives or tax breaks to them. Russia's idea of building its own Las Vegases needs an investment of $40 billion and this idea remains a mirage yet.
Large operators of this business have already shifted to neighboring countries and are announcing incentive tour packages to potential gamblers to lure them. Russia's neighboring country, Belarus, has come out with a massive plan to set up gambling centers near its capital's international airport so that Russian gamblers can be lured.
Smart gamblers have shifted to on-line gambling. Poker clubs and lottery halls which are exceptions to the ban, are carrying out their operations merrily. Unauthorized gambling is rampant. Gambling is refusing to be weeded out.
Russian entrepreneurs requested the Government to allow casinos in hotels and tourist centers but the government refused to relent. The intentions of the government are very good because as the psychologists say, "gambling addiction destroys individuals, their families and eventually, the entire society." With the co-operation of the general public, let us hope the Russian Government will be able to contain this menace.