Russian Federal Bill 478806-6, which the Russian Parliament State of Duma had deliberated on for several months in 2014, finally became a new law, after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed it last December. The new bill is actually an amendment to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, aimed at putting more teeth to Russia’s Gambling Law, which generally prohibits gambling except in the gambling zones pre-designated by the federal government.
Actually, Russian authorities began their crackdown against illegal gambling operations and activities in 2009, by closing down casinos, gaming halls, and establishments with slot machines, located outside of the legal gambling zones. At that time, there were only four areas designated as special gambling zones— the Altai-Primorsky Territories, Azov City, the Kaliningrad Region and the Krasnodar Territory. Crimea and Sochi were officially designated as the fifth and sixth gambling zones only in July 2014.
However, subsequent enforcement actions during the past five years had accordingly waned, as convictions for illegal gambling activities flourished, only if the amount of revenue involved exceeded 1.5 million rubles, which is roughly equivalent to around £16,000. Illegal gambling operations previously shuttered had simply re-opened in other areas, or as unlicensed operators inside the gambling zones.
The newly enacted law now imposes tougher punishment and penalties on those found in violation of the federal Gambling Laws. Convicted individual offenders will pay fines ranging from RUB300,000 to RUB500,000 (£3,200-£5,300). Illegal operators, on the other hand, will pay penalties based on income earned within one to three years of running the illegal gambling operations.
In addition to the fines, the new law also prescribes punishments in the form of 240 hours of rendering community services; or imprisonment of two years, or restriction of freedom up to a maximum of four years. Operating without gambling license even if within the recognised territories is also illegal, which makes engaging in betting activities in such establishments an offense punishable by law.
Bill 478806-6 also instituted definitive laws for Internet-based gambling, as Russia was previously regarded as a gray market area, where the illegality of online betting and real money gambling is not well defined. The Russian government, though, began demonstrating its rigid stance against remote gambling operations in 2013, by ordering Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block attempts to access online gambling sites and by blacklisting remote gambling operators.
A particular clause contained in Bill 478806-6 conveyed that betting activities on play equipment located outside of the designated gambling areas, or with the use of telecommunication and information networks, or by way of mobile communication, or in unlicensed gambling establishments inside the gambling zone, are all deemed punishable. Under the new law, Russian online and mobile device bettors and real money gamblers could face payment of fines and/or imprisonment.
The enacted bill also puts to rest the question of whether online poker, which is generally recognised as a game of skill is likewise banned, since there had been reports in June 2014 from the Russian Finance Ministry that online poker would likely be declared as an “intellectual or commercial game” similar to chess and modern non-gambling cybersports. Russia’s federal Bill 478806-6 does not contain any statement excluding online poker from the gambling activities accessed and played via the Internet.