Now that Russia has officially annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has big plans for the region — he wants to make it into a gambler’s paradise.
According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, on Monday, Putin submitted a bill to the State Duma, the lower house of Russian parliament, to establish a specially designated gambling zone in Crimea.
If approved, Crimea would be the fifth designated gambling zone in the Russian Federation, in addition to the Altai, Kaliningrad, Krasnodar and Primorsky regions.
In spite of the establishment of the casino zones, overall, Putin’s regime has cracked down on gambling. During his first term in office, Putin pushed for legislation to ban casinos in Moscow, saying it was necessary to curb Russia’s gambling addiction. Under 2009 legislation, gambling was restricted to the four designated areas, all of which are far from Moscow. Putin has said gambling addictions are “no less serious than dependency on alcohol and drugs.” He also rejected a proposal that was floated by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to bring gambling to Sochi in February during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
However, the economic needs of Russia’s newly annexed region have seemingly prompted Putin’s openness to the possibility of casinos in Crimea. Gambling would be part of an economic-development plan for the region as Russia’s government looks for ways to make Crimea less reliant on subsidies from Moscow. Bloomberg first reported the possibility of the region becoming a designated gambling zone last month.
Crimea’s budget deficit is expected to be about 55 billion ruble, or $US1.5 billion, which Moscow has said it will cover. However, that obligation comes amid an overall economic downturn in Russia and as the country faces a slew of Western sanctions, which are due, in large part, to its annexation of Crimea.
It’s worth wondering whether an influx of casinos will bring a flurry of economic activity and aid Crimea’s bottom line. Crimea is separated from the Russian mainland and it is about 900 miles from Moscow. Russia has begun preparations for the construction of a bridge onto Crimea from the mainland, but the project will likely take years to complete.
Crimea held a referendum in March in which the region’s residents voted to split from Ukraine and join Russia, a move the United States and much of the West still do not recognise. During an appearance in Kiev on Tuesday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the international community would “never” recognise Russia’s “illegal” actions in Crimea.
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