Russian Casinos To Close In Cities

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Russian gamblers are placing their final bets before all casinos and slot machine parlors across the country must shut down by midnight. The anti-vice law was first promoted in 2006 by then President Vladimir Putin. Many wagered the government would eventually back down, but they lost that bet.


Now to Russia, where if you like to gamble, you may be placing your final bets. Casinos and slot machine parlors across the country have to shut down by midnight. That's because of an anti-vice law that many wagered would never be enforced. They lost. The Kremlin is standing by its decision.

Despite an economic crisis and rising unemployment, hundreds of thousands could lose their jobs. NPR's Anne Garrels has this report.

ANNE GARRELS: Employees at the swanky Shangri-La Casino in downtown Moscow are in a state of shock and despair.

Ms. INASTIA REZANSAVA(ph) (Casino Worker): (Through translator) We just didn't believe it would really happen. Everyone is worried about getting another job.

GARRELS: Inastia Rezansava, who's worked here for eight years, says the government has failed to fulfill its promises to retrain all those about to be on the streets. President Dmitry Medvedev estimates 60,000 workers will be affected.

Michael Boettcher(ph), a British expatriate who controls Storm International, a gambling conglomerate, which includes the Shangri-La, says the numbers are far higher.

Mr. MICHAEL BOETTCHER (Storm International): There are around 400,000 directly, another 400,000 indirectly - entertainers, uniform makers, carpet cleaners, taxi drivers, hotels.

GARRELS: And then there's the loss of tax revenues, estimated at an annual $1 billion.

The Kremlin has said the gambling industry can relocate to four regions in remote areas of Russia. But Boettcher says the idea of Las Vegas in the wilds of Siberia, where there's no infrastructure, is patently absurd.

Mr. BOETTCHER: Nobody's going to go there. There's nothing there.

GARRELS: No casinos are expected to reopen in Russia in the foreseeable future.

With the first flush of freedom in the early '90s, gambling joints opened up across Russia. Until recently, there were 2,700 registered gaming establishments in Moscow alone - most sleazy slot shops. Largely unregulated, they've not enjoyed a good reputation.

(Soundbite of roulette ball bouncing)

GARRELS: Vladimir Ivanoff(ph) says government action is long overdue. He says too many people have lost their money, their family's money and their homes. He should know. As he walks in the casino, he says he's a gambling addict.

Michael Boettcher says better oversight was needed. Casinos proposed ways the government could cut down on abuses. Boettcher says they got no response.

Mr. VLADIMIR IVANOFF: (Russian spoken)

Mr. BOETTCHER: They just killed the industry, the legal industry, and encouraged the illegal industry.

GARRELS: Until last week, Shangri-La and other casinos believed the new law might allow them to stay open on a much more modest scale as private poker clubs. But Boettcher says the law is still unclear. It's not worth the risk - all bets are off.

Alexander Tikachoff(ph), a regular here, had planned to shift from his beloved blackjack to poker.

Mr. ALEXANDER TIKACHOFF: (Russian spoken)

GARRELS: He's shocked to learn that may no longer be an option. All this, however, may enrich the coffers of neighboring countries like Belarus and Armenia, where casinos pushed out of Russia are expanding. As its doors prepare to shut in Russia, Shangri-La is offering its best clients free travel to its establishments across the border.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Moscow.

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