A strict interpretation of Bill 478806-6 passed last week in the State Duma makes it illegal to play online poker in Russia outside of designated areas.
Since 2009, live gambling in Russia has been illegal outside of four far-flung designated areas of economic development. Earlier this year, Vladimir Putin agreed to extend those areas to include recently annexed Crimea, and Sochi – the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which aims to become the Monte Carlo of the Black Sea.
By comparison, online gambling in Russia has always been a bit of a grey area. Russian ISPs have frequently blocked access to online poker sites in the past without any specific legislation in place prohibiting online poker – although a ban on online gambling ads was imposed at the same time as live gambling was prohibited.
Wasn´t Online Poker Going to be Regulated?
In June this year, the Russian Finance Ministry were reported to be considering the regulation of online poker in Russia, and hopes were high that the authorities would re-classify online poker as an
intellectual and commercial game – rather than a game of chance – and return it to the
national sports registry.
However, the push behind regulation seems to have fizzled out and – while the land of the free was having a major sweat over the potential passage of RAWA – the Russian authorities passed Bill 478806-6, which introduced new penalties for illegal gambling in Russia and effectively criminalises online poker.
The Purpose of Bill 478806-6
Bill 478806-6 is an amendment to Article 171-2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation which increases the penalties on those engaged in illegal gambling. Unlike RAWA, Bill 478806-6 was not some
backdoor piece of legislation that was going to be tagged onto a
must-pass Bill. It has been going back and forth between committees and the State Duma (Russian parliament) since March.
The reason for its introduction was that convictions against illegal gambling have only been enforced when the revenues involved exceed more than 1.5 million roubles (c.$26,000). Such are the massive revenues from illegal gambling in Russia that as soon as an illegal gambling operation is closed down, it springs back up somewhere else.
The increased penalties for illegal gambling aim to increase the pain on the illegal operators to make it financially unviable to operate – individuals can be clobbered with a fine of 500,000 roubles and two years imprisonment, while large-scale operators could face a fine of a million roubles and four years jail time. Corrupt officials can also be jailed for seven years in addition to being fined.
How Bill 478806-6 Criminalises Online Poker
As far as online poker players are concerned, the language used in Article 1 of the Bill is the most worrying. It states (translated from the Russian text):
1. Organization and (or) conducting gambling with play equipment outside the gambling area, or by using information and telecommunications networks, including the Internet, as well as means of communication, including mobile communications, or without obtaining permission in accordance with established procedure on the activity of the organization and conduct of gambling in the gambling zone is punishable by a fine up to five hundred thousand roubles or the salary or other income for a period of one to three years, or by compulsory works for a period of one hundred eighty to two hundred forty hours, or restraint of liberty for up to four years, or by deprivation sentence of up to two years.
Significantly the bill makes no distinction between an organisation
conducting gambling and an individual; and a strict interpretation of the language used implies that any individual playing online poker outside of the designated areas is committing an offence.
Now the Bill has been passed by the State Duma, it goes to the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation (the upper house of the Russian parliamentary system) where it is likely to get rubber-stamped. Unlike the Gambling Act of 2007 which gave Russian casinos a grace period of two and a half years, Bill 478806-6 will become effective immediately once it has passed through the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation.
How Are You Affected by Bill 478806-6?
If you are a Russian online poker player, please take a look at the legislation and let us know if you agree with our interpretation of Bill 478806-6 by using the comments box below.