To everyone's surprise, members of the Assembly reconsidered their earlier decision and agreed that Texas Hold'em as a variation of poker should return to the country. A respective bill has been developed to secure such a resolution. Senior leadership acted contrary to the prior tough banning policy to combat online poker held by the country's prosecution authorities. Note that a previous similar case resulted in imposing a ban on the activities of providers offering their users access to restricted resources such as online poker rooms and casinos.
This decision is completely opposite to the former state policy with regard to online poker: its total ban. In addition to adopting the decision to legalize the game, the authorities held a preliminary hearing on relocation of four previously approved gaming zones. It has been argued that it is much more efficient to locate gambling venues in highly populated areas, namely in St. Petersburg, Sochi, Krasnodar and Moscow.
The meeting also included a discussion about the establishment of a fully-fledged system to control online poker activity. The importance of the system is proven by the practice in many European countries that have legalized poker and have developed their own individual systems and methods for poker regulation. Having thoroughly studied the practices and experiences of other states, the Russian government drew a number of conclusions that helped identify the primary and key tasks for the near future. The idea is to create an organization to handle the issues of licensing and control of gaming activities.
In addition, the MPs found the need to create a new department in the Tax Police to oversee not only all the cash flow through the casinos, but also the proceeds of both the gambling organizers’ activities and the players’ proceeds from winning in casinos or gaming clubs.
The entire gaming community in Russia is anticipating a final decision on this bill. Despite the fact that the project has been approved so far only in the first hearing, the market participants expressed their hope that this initiative will finally translate into law. That's what many poker rooms have reported on their forums and in the news.
A similar situation is currently observed in Ukraine as well. In light of the upcoming European Football Championship, the country’s leadership has decided to review the previously held policy with respect to gambling activities. The authorities have once again raised the question of the revival of gambling activities in 4- and 5-star hotels that will give every reason to legalize poker and other games of chance. In their actions the authorities are primarily guided by the need to find all possible ways to generate revenues for the state budget, which is currently experiencing a significant deficit due to major construction and preparatory works. However, even under such circumstances the country's leadership is not considering legalization of gambling activities. Due to this the poker rooms and online casinos are still illegal and operate underground.
As reported in April, the Verkhovna Rada will begin the hearing on the opening of casinos in 4- and 5-star hotels. It is known that they must have at least 60 rooms available. In addition the bill being drafted stresses that all these gambling establishments may organize and hold only the classical types of games, while slot machines must be prohibited.
It should be noted that in Ukraine two bills providing for the full legalization of casinos and gambling clubs were prepared last year. Both of them were submitted for consideration but after more than nine months no progress was made. Top leadership explained this lack of progress by the fact that the submitted bills have caused numerous controversies and debates between the two institutions: the Ministry of Finance on the one hand and Infrastructure on the other. Now Ukrainian gamblers are pinning their hopes on a new version of the bill.
Poker has a long history in Russia, including periods of unprecedented popularity as well as times of total bans. For example, several years ago in Russia this game was considered a full-fledged sport offering tremendous opportunities for the professional development for players. Without any prohibitions and restrictions they all could join in the clubs to organize and host numerous tournaments at various levels. Poker fairly successfully existed in casinos and other gambling establishments.
2009 was a truly dramatic year for players both in Russia and Ukraine. The authorities in the two countries adopted laws prohibiting gambling activities in their states, justifying the decision by quoting the negative impact of gambling on the gamblers. At the same time a major blow was delivered not only to slot machine arcades, but also to poker clubs whose activity also was recognized as illegal. However, instead of mass abstinence from the game the authorities were faced with the problem of the gambling establishments going underground. Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight and the experience of other nations, the governments of Ukraine and Russia are ready to reassess their position on gambling and, specifically, on poker. (E-04.18.12)
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