Russia to Legalize Online Poker?

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A July 2014 report within The Moscow Times first broke the news that the Russian ban on online poker could eventually be lifted. However, do not expect any immediate progress, as this is the first time in five years that the government has discussed the prospect of online poker legalisation in Russia.

As in most cases of online gambling legalisation, the government is considering the prospect because of the potential revenue that could be generated. US state New Jersey was also driven by a desire to generate revenue when they legalised online gambling in 2013. In Russia’s case, The Moscow Times reported that the government is seeking to increase the annual federal budget by an estimated $146 million.

Poker Status in Russia

Another factor that is said to have played into the reconsideration is an appeal made by Kakha Kakhiani, president of the Poker Union. He highlighted that Russian poker players have generally performed strongly in the poker tournaments they have entered. Kakhiani was of the belief that online poker would only improve the international prospects of Russian poker players.

Back in 2007, poker was officially registered as a sport within Russia. That status protected online poker for only a brief period, as it was soon banned in 2009. Additionally, it was simultaneously stripped of its sporting status.

European Implications

Much of the European Union (EU) has legalised online gambling to at least some extent. For the most part, activities like online poker, sports betting, and lotteries are more accepted than bingo and casino games. EU punters generally have little trouble accessing sites on which to engage in online gambling.

That being said, there are restrictions from country to country. In general, the EU markets are opening because legally they have to. The EU was founded on a number of principles, most notably the freedom of trade. Markets can no longer allow for their domestic firms to retain monopolistic stranglehold. As a result, major operators can now enter many EU markets, albeit once they have obtained licenses.

Outside of Europe, though, the status is less clear. Some countries have barely considered the prospect of online gambling, which is why many remain unregulated while others have costly licensing processes in place. Should Russia legalise online poker, such an action would not have sweeping repercussions throughout Europe. Most European countries are inwardly focused when it comes to online gambling.

Impact for Major Brands

Famous poker brands such as PartyPoker, PokerStars, and 888Poker could potentially benefit from being able to attract talented new players to compete in their tournaments. That is the ideal scenario, but all of that depends on the licensing systems that Russia would potentially implement.

Russia is not a member of the EU, and thus it would have no responsibility to open up a legal online poker market. Like many other European countries, Russia could favour a single domestic poker website operated from within the country. Such an action would have no benefit for the major global brands. The prospects look sketchy at best for such brands, but they will monitor the situation nonetheless.

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