Poker in Russia Booming with 28 Million Supporters Despite Legal Uncertainty

March 13th, 2016 | by Brian Corlisse
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov backing regulated poker in Russia.

Businessman and chess expert Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is backing poker regulation for more than 28 million Russian players. (Image: en.chessbase.com)

Poker in Russia is big business, but it could be really big business if the government decides to regulate the industry according to a recent report.

Following the news that Russian officials are considering regulating the poker industry, the International Business Times (IBT) published details of a poll which suggested that 20 percent of the country’s 143 million residents currently play the game.

Despite the game technically being outlawed (although this something of a grey area), more than 28 million residents enjoy the game and, according to the figures, more than 8 percent of PokerStars’ dot.com player pool is made up of Russians.

Russian Minister’s Assessing Poker’s Economic EV

Given the overwhelming popularity of the game in its current state, it’s little wonder that Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov ordered a report of the potential economic benefits of a regulated industry.

Although there has been no forward movement since Shuvalov’s order 18 months ago, a number of influential figures are backing the industry.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the head of the World Chess Federation and a prominent Russian businessman with strong ties to the Kremlin, is in favor of a regulated industry.

“Concerning online poker and its legalization in Russia, it should be legalized. There are no reasons that it should be hidden and illegal,” Shuvalov told the IBT.

As well as support from Ilyumzhinov, Russian poker players are also being supported by Amaya. In 2015, the parent company of PokerStars stated that it’s engaged in “dialogue” with the country’s ministers and believes regulation is on the horizon.

Given this support, plus the recent news that 20 percent of the population plays the game, there seems to be a lot of reason for Russia’s ministers to regulate the industry.

888poker Already Tapping into Russian Market

While the road to full regulation is likely to be a long and arduous one (as the US has shown), some operators are already hedging their bets. Joining Amaya in support of poker in Russia over the last few days is 888poker.

Coming in the wake of Itai Frieberger’s promotion to CEO of the company, 888poker has announced that it is now an official partner of the Russian Poker Tour (RPT).

Although the tour is currently forced to hold events outside of Russia in countries such as Belarus and Montenegro, it is extremely popular with Russian players and 888poker will be hoping to exploit this through its new relationship with the RPT.

While there are no guarantees regulation will happen anytime soon, it’s likely the RPT would become the leading live tournament series within Russia if and when it does.

If this is the case then 888poker would be well placed to become the go-to online site in Russia which, as the stats would suggest, is already a market stocked with almost 30 million players.

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