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Crimea Might Become the Las Vegas of Russia

This move is widely seen as an attempt by Putin to expand Russia’s influence over Crimea’s economy and exert further control.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 22 2014, 12:25pm

Photo by Reuters

Russia's President Vladimir Putin introduced a bill into the Russian legislature Monday that seeks to create a special gambling zone in Crimea.

Gambling has only been legal in Russia since 2009 and is currently relegated to four specific areas in the country but if this bill succeeds, Crimea could be the fifth.

This move is widely seen as an attempt by Putin to expand Russia’s influence over Crimea’s economy and exert further control over the peninsula that Russia annexed last month.

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Russia now claims Crimea to be a part of the Russian Federation, although this is still not recognized by anyone other Russia.

This proposed bill is the latest provocative move taken by Putin that the Ukrainian government blames for stirring up tensions in eastern Europe.

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Russia also plans to pump an additional $7 billion into Crimea’s debt-ridden economy, mostly by rebuilding the region’s infrastructure and transportation as an attempt to remake Crimea as a special economic zone that is attractive to international investors.

This bill leaves the details of where and how people can gamble up to local Crimea authorities.

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At first, Russian officials proposed that the bill limit casinos to be in 5-star hotels near the capital, but Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, later argued that they should be left in remote areas outside of cities in towns.

"We have a task to create a year-round tourist cluster based on the gaming zone,” Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev told Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

Gambling was outlawed in Moscow in 2009 by the government, cited as a symbolism of post-Soviet excess and the cause of widespread addiction.

Currently only one city in Russia, the coastal city of Azov, has casinos open to the public.

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Despite its ban in most of the country, gambling continues to be a large industry in Russia and will almost certainly bring in a considerable extra source of revenue if brought to Crimea.

This decision comes three weeks after Russia announced plans to make Crimea a specially designated economic zone offering tax breaks and another attempt to attract investors to the region.

"As well as in the case of Kaliningrad, a specific law is required which allows tax privileges to all large investors, ready to put money into the region," said Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on March 24.

These actions by Russia indicate the country’s worsening economic situation, as international sanctions led by the US begin to take their effect and Russia scrambles to maintain stability over their markets and force Crimea to be reliant on the Russian economy.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928