Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a bill allowing for the creation of gambling zones in the newly annexed Crimea and in Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Russian State Duma approved the bill earlier this month in a bid to boost tourism and attract investment.
The Crimea is a special concern as Moscow’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine earlier this year has saddled it with an ailing economy and a cash-strapped government dependent on federal subsidies.
“The creation of a gambling zone in Crimea will attract additional investment to the region, create jobs and improve the tax base,” said high-ranking Duma member Anatoly Karpov.
The zone, most likely in Yalta, will add the equivalent of US$720 million to the economy, according to analysts cited by news agency ITAR-TASS, which reports that “many potential investors” have expressed interest.
The Sochi zone, approved in part to recoup massive commercial losses from the Olympics, most likely will be located in Gornaya Karusel, which is part of an underperforming resort area called Esto-Sadok Krasnaya Polyana.
The Duma, at Putin’s urging, closed a flourishing casino industry based in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2009 and exiled the industry to four outlying zones: Kaliningrad in European Russia, the southern Don-Rostov region near the Black Sea, Altai in Central Asia and a region around the country’s main Pacific coast city of Vladivostok in the Far East. None, however, has attracted the resort investment the government has sought, although Vladivostok is seen as the most promising because of its proximity to China, the Koreas and Japan. Separate plans are in the works by Macau casino mogul Lawrence Ho and Cambodia’s NagaCorp to develop casinos near the Pacific coast city. Ho’s is slated to open later this year.