Crimea to Become a Special Gambling Zone as Western Sanctions Bite into Economy
Russia plans to get up a gambling zone in the newly-annexed Crimea. The Crimean region has been a resort destination for decades, hosting Russian tsars and Soviet premiers through the generations. Now that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has seized the region over the protests of Ukraine (and the west), he wants to open the region to casino-style gambling.
While Putin’s plans might not affect US casino gambling, it has a direct link to American global policy. Crimea has become hotspot for international diplomacy, testing American and European resolve. And if Vladimir Putin has his way, American gaming companies will help him turn Crimea into Russia’s top gambling destination.
Crimea: Russia’s 5th Special Gaming Zone
Putin recently signed a law that allows Crimea to join Russia’s four traditional special gaming zones. All other regions inside the Russian Federation ban gambling. Along with the announcement about Crimean casinos, the Russian government announced (through its official website) it would expand the special zone around Krasnodar in southern Russia, to include the city of Sochi. Sochi recently hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Vladimir Putin famously invested $50 billion in the region, so he would like Sochi to become one of the top resort destinations in the world. The new Sochi casinos will be located near the Olympic Village, according to Interfax.
Sergey Aksyonov, acting head of the Crimean Republic, said his province would seek experienced gaming developers to build their casino complexes. Aksyonov went on to say both American and Chinese developers had been contacted. He added, “We’ve been negotiating with the experts from (China) Macao and (America) Los Angeles.”
Gambling in Russia
Russia has a complicated history with gambling. Throughout much of its history, gaming was banned. In the wild 1990’s, as a wild new era of capitalism overtook the country and New Russians appeared on the scene, cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg were home to casinos.
In 2009, though, Putin’s government banned all casino gambling, except for four specialized zones: the Krasnodar region of the Caucasus Mountains, the Altai region in Siberia, a section of Russia in the Far East near Vladivostok, and Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. All four regions are considered inaccessible to most average Russians, set upon the periphery of Russian territory, so they became resort destinations for affluent Russians. Crimea is likely to be the same, but it might be the best-situated of the bunch.
Why Crimean Casinos Matter
Crimea long has been a key area to Russians and Ukrainians. Sevastapol gave Russian rulers a warm water port, along with control of the Black Sea. Once Catherine the Great seized control of the Crimea in the latter half of the 18th century, Russia became a regional power in the Balkans and the Middle East, along with the mortal enemy of Turkey (its previous possessor). When the Soviet empire fell apart, Crimea became a part of Ukraine, which declared its independence from the Russian Federation.
Russia’s nuclear fleet was based there, so Russian troops remained stationed there for the past 20 years, as a wary reminder of Crimea’s past. Ukrainians recently tried to define the nature of their indepedence from Russia: whether they would be a pro-western democracy or would fall into the pro-Russian orbit. When the pro-western forces ousted a president who had bargained one too many times with Russia, then Vladimir Putin sent in troops and annexed the Crimea.
Western Economic Sanctions
Now Crimea faces an uncertain economic future. Ukraine and the western democracies have yet to recognize Russia’s annexation, while economic sanctions have been imposed by a US-led coalition.
While most economic experts believe the sanctions won’t significantly effect the Russian economy, that doesn’t mean parts of the economy won’t suffer. The latest issue of Time Magazine noted that Russian company’s have seen foreign investments disappear, hampering startups, expansions, and innovations in Russian industry. Given Crimea’s role in the standoff between Russia and the west, sanctions are likely to target the region’s economy more than most Russian financial entities.
Russian Investment in Crimea
Putin, on the other hand, has a large stake in making Crimea a financial success. Given the region’s warm weather and long coastline, it should be a favored vacation spot for Russia’s elite. If Putin can install modern, integrated casinos in the region, he might be able to lure European high stakes gamblers. Given the vast wealth Putin spent on Sochi, the new Crimean gambling houses could be quite lavish.
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