Recent reports have suggested that Russia may be considering legalising online poker for its citizens. Online poker playing is currently outlawed in Russia, as it is deemed a game of chance rather than skill and falls under anti-gambling regulations. It is believed that Moscow will make a move to license and legislate the online game sometime in the coming months.
The Eastern European country has over 140 million residents and it is estimated that around twenty million continue to play online poker in Russia despite the ban. New legislation would allow the Russian government to receive tax revenue from online gaming operators in the country, which would undoubtedly be a significant boost to the economy.
Advocates of the legalisation of online poker in Russia have argued that Russian authorities need to create the framework for collecting tax from the online gambling sector, a potentially lucrative source for additional income.
If Russia did make moves to legalise online poker and allow its residents to legally compete in online poker rooms, it would potentially be the most significant change in the worldwide online gaming industry in up to ten years. It would ensure the online gaming market would make a profit and secure tax.
There has been some movement in the issues relating to legality of online poker in Russia already, as last year the government was considering a ban on services which residents use to play on blacklisted sites (such as VPNs and Tor) such as PokerStars, PartyPoker, Unibet, and TitanPoker. This didn’t come to pass, to the relief of online poker fans.
Having an outright ban on any activity can usually lead to further complications. Legal professionals in Russia have commented that a state ban on activities such as gambling will often just move the banned activities from the legal field into a dubious and even less regulated area, causing more serious problems for policing.
Banning online poker playing in Russia therefore will only drive the activity underground, since the internet is notoriously difficult to control and regulate. The final decision in regulating online poker playing in Russia lies with the state legislature. In June 2014, Minister Shuvalov informed the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on the prospects of such a law. This has made many online poker fans confident that tangible change in the country’s online gaming rules could be on its way soon.
Many point out that online poker has already been fully legalized in the UK, France, Spain, Canada, Argentina, several US states and many other European countries. Even though they are not legally permitted to play due to Russia’s current restrictions, they are strongly represented on foreign poker sites, with Russians accounting for 8.4% of players on the biggest site,
The debate is ongoing. Negotiations will presumably take some time, as there are a number of aspects of the potential law which may be controversial. One such issue is the idea that online poker players may be required to supply their financial and personal tax details to be permitted to play. This may not appeal to many players who prefer to retain anonymity.