Russia closed down all its casinos as gambling was banned nationwide, a move the industry says could throw a third of a million people out of work.
The July 1 ban shut gaming halls, from gaudy casinos crowned by extravagant neon structures to dingy dwellings containing a handful of slot machines.
“I feel terrible. We just let 1,000 people go,” said Yuri Boyev, general director at Metelitsa, an upmarket casino where billionaires rolled the dice and Russia’s gas giant Gazprom held a lavish Christmas party.
Vladimir Putin, now prime minister, came up with the idea in 2006 when he was president after the Interior Ministry linked several gaming operations in Moscow to Georgian organized crime.
The Kremlin plans to restrict gambling to Las Vegas-style gaming zones in four rarely visited regions deemed to need investment, including one near the North Korea border, but nothing has been built and critics say the zones will fail.
The development replacement zones — in southern Krasnodar, the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, east Siberia’s Altai region and the Far East — require investment of up to $40 billion and have not been built.
“The zones have no roads, water or electricity. We fulfilled the law by shutting, the government did not fulfill it as the zones are not ready yet,” said casino director Boyev.
Though gaming establishments knew the shutdown date for at least a year, few thought the government would go through with it.
The industry says the ban will axe at least 300,000 jobs but officials in Moscow put the national figure at only 11,500.