Strained financial times have set back plans for four new Las Vegas-style gambling zones in remote areas of Russia to replace gambling facilities ordered to close on Jul 1, but Russian authorities insist the country's casinos and slot machine parlors will close on time. The zones are aimed at focusing tourism and development in areas where they are needed. Gambling workers unions want the closure delayed, predicting economic upheaval when some 500,000 of their members are laid off.
There are 30 casinos and more than 500 slot machine parlors in Moscow. The Ukraine parliament slapped a blanket ban on gambling institutions within days of a fire that killed 10 people in the center of the country, but it has been caught up in political divisions in the country. Saying it put 200,000 jobs at risk, President Viktor Yuschenko vetoed the ban. Ukrainian lawmakers are looking for ways to bypass his veto. The planned gambling zones in Russia include the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, a Siberian site and a site on the Pacific coast. When the project was announced three years ago, it was presented as the ideal solution for removing gambling from city centres and stimulating the growth of business and tourism in economically neglected areas. The gambling industry representatives suggest the idea will never get off the ground. It's unlikely that the investment will be found to make the zones a reality, they say, given the remoteness of the sites and the infrastructure and construction needed to bring them into being. "They are all at least 100km from the nearest settlement," says Samoil Binder, of the Russian Association for the Development of the Gambling Business. "We'd need 35 years to break even, and that's assuming that the profits of these new zones will be the same as in Moscow, which is unlikely." In February, the trade union that represents workers in the gambling sector appealed to the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to delay the gambling plan until the special zones were completed. Jun/09
Date written/update: 2009-07-01