There is a strong possibility that in the coming months, Russia might end up declaring that poker will be predominantly considered a “game of skill” like the Dutch did in 2014. This could lead to online poker becoming legal in Russia and make thousands of online poker players in Russia extremely happy.
According to media reports, there are indications that the Russian government will decide to view poker as a “game of skill” rather than a “game of chance.” Such a decision would reverse its current stance on the issue and have a significant bearing on the online gaming industry in the country.
Online poker in Russia is fairly popular despite it being currently illegal. According to a poll by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VTSIOM), 16% of its adult population or an estimated 20 million play online poker actively. The Russian government has taken a number of measures to restrict online poker such as banning poker sites and banning banks from accepting online gaming transactions but with limited results. The Russian government has even considered banning services like TOR or VPN which allow players to circumvent these restrictions in a bid to stop online gaming.
According to Maxim Katz, an internationally known professional poker player and now a Moscow municipal councillor the only result of the ban was that poker went underground and the government stopped receiving taxes. In Katz’s view, the Russian authorities must create conditions in which operators make a profit from their online websites which result in tax revenues for the state.
Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, began the process to legalize poker six months ago after getting approval from the Kremlin but progress has been slow. There is still a lot of uncertainty on the plans to regulate the online poker industry as well as the timelines for the roll-out.
In a statement, Alexander Zakondyrin, a Moscow politician and lawyer said,
In my opinion, conceptually the decision to legalize online poker has been already made by the Russian government. As early as June 2014, Shuvalov instructed the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on such a project’s prospects.
Russians play poker, but their money goes abroad. In the crisis situation, low oil prices and sanctions against Russia, which excludes the use of foreign debt markets, Russia’s budget needs additional income.
In case Russia decides to redefine poker, it could have significant implications for governments in other countries who are debating the same issue as whether poker should be considered a game of skill or a game of chance.