Gambling companies have welcomed the news that poker is now officially classified as a “sport” in Russia following an order signed March 26 by the Federal Sports Agency head, Vyacheslav Fetisov. On June 26, 2007, Seven-Card Stud Poker, Omaha and Texas Hold’em were officially included in the All-Russia Registry of Sports.
“This game doesn’t have any connection to the gambling business, since in sports poker the players are competing against one another not the casino,” said the Gaming Business Association official. “In Austria, Denmark and several U.S. states, poker has been removed from the list of games of chance.”
By reorganising themselves as “poker clubs” the casinos in Russia have neatly side-stepped the July 1st legislation that would ban gambling outside 4 chosen zones. The government has signed orders creating three such zones: Azov-City, on the border of the Rostov and Krasnodar regions; Sibirskaya Moneta, in Altai; and Yantarnaya, in the Kaliningrad region. An order to create a zone in the far eastern Primorye region has not been signed. None of the zones are due to be ready by July 1st, especially in the current financial climate where funding for new building projects has rapidly evaporated.
It is still unclear how this reclassification of poker may affect online gaming in Russia, which has been in legal limbo since 2006, after the law, “About the State Regulation of Activities on Gambling” was passed. Although this law was targeted at the offline casino industry it contained one sentence which indicated that online gaming would be disallowed.
A further bill, passed in July of the same year did not include the internet as a recognised area where gaming advertising would be prohibited. This caused Yandex and the major search engines in Russia to ban sites which promoted online gaming for money from their contextual advertising systems (PPC).