The online poker landscape in Russia could soon be set for a change following a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov and his government peers.
Following hints from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that he’s warming to the idea of regulated online poker, a report from Interfax.ru has suggested that plans are now being put in place to make this a reality.
Back in 2009, Russia moved to prevent online operators from serving native players.
This effort was stepped up in 2014 when Putin signed a bill that imposed tougher penalties for illegal iGaming operators within the country and since then the landscape has been uncertain at best.
In addition to serving gaming website owners with fines up to $5,300, the new bill also threatened those in breach of the conditions with compulsory community service of 240 hours.
However, despite these sanctions, online poker has continued to proliferate throughout Russia and that seems to be one of the reasons for the government’s recent change of tact.
Another reason the government is now looking at regulating the iGaming industry is the movement of public opinion with regards to poker as a skill game. Instead of classifying it alongside games of chance such as blackjack and roulette, many Russians now consider poker a skill game much like chess.
In fact, according to a study by the All-Russia Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, 85% of Internet users saw online poker as a game of intellect and skill.
With this in mind, Putin now believes the game can be used as a source of tax revenue which can then be used to fund other mind sports such as chess and the National Chess Federation.
However, despite the new wave of optimism surrounding the regulation of online poker in Russia, native grinders will remember previous attempts to implement a legal framework.
Back in 2014 Shuvalov authorized a review of online poker and tasked the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry for Economic Development and the Ministry of Justice to come up with detailed reports on how to regulate the industry.
At the time these efforts seemed to dwindle, which suggests there may be more issues in the coming months. Moreover, with Interfax also suggesting that Russia will require all personal data to be held within the country, it could mean that it’s logistically impossible for remote operators to meet the proposals.
There’s no doubt that the increased tax revenue Russia would gain from regulating online poker is something it can’t ignore; however, if it insists on taking a big brother approach to storing personal data and controlling sites, then it could become a market many operators choose to stay out of.