Crimea may be made a gambling zone by the Russian government

Russian officials have discussed turning Crimea, the region that controversially left the Ukraine and became part of Russia on 16 March, into a gambling zone, according to insiders.

Bloomberg cites four anonymous officials who say they discussed the option with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak in a meeting on 21 March.

According to these officials, the Russian ministries of economy, finance and regional development have until 15 April to present this plan officially.

Kozak has declined to comment but a spokesperson told Bloomberg: "All proposals to stimulate the economy are under consideration. They will be known when a decision is made."

Prime Minister Medvedev told a Russian Government meeting today: "Our aim is to make the peninsula as attractive as possible to investors, so that it can generate sufficient income for its own development."

Gary Hufbaeur, from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told Bloomberg: "Putin might still be in power in 2020 so he has a bit of time to turn Crimea into a Russian playground which invites Western Europeans and others to come and enjoy the Black Sea."

The Crimea is currently costing the Russian Government as it is running a budget deficit due to the recent crisis. President Putin hopes to make it self-sufficient in the near future.

Gambling in Russia was banned in 2009, except for designated areas in four regions: Altai (on the border with Kazakhstan); Vladivostok (on the Pacific coast); Krasnodar (near Crimea) and Kaliningrad (between Poland and Lithuania).

The only working betting resort is currently Asov city, in the Krasnodar region.

Pyotr Kuznetsov, a Ukrainian gambling pioneer and co-founder of Split Group Corporation, told Forbes that he doubted whether such a project would be successful.

He said that the Crimea's current gambling facilities are mostly used by holidaying Ukrainians who are unlikely to visit any more now the region is part of Russia.

He added that it was cheaper for people in Moscow and Kiev to fly to casinos in Croatia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria than to the Crimea as the peninsula only has one international airport, Simferopol.

"As an entrepreneur," he said, "I do not plan to do business on the peninsula. I see no prospect of creating effective gambling in the Crimea."

Joe Lo

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