Russia is currently in the process of legalizing and licensing online sports betting, but online casino games and poker remain outlawed due to ongoing prohibitory measures first instituted in 2006. Nonetheless, online gambling sites headquartered in other countries insist on accepting wagers from players located in Russia.
Strict gaming laws have prevented the rise of a domestic gambling industry, so that leaves us with our current situation: the best Russian casino sites are not Russian at all. They do offer Russian-language websites and accept ruble deposits, but they are all hosted overseas in jurisdictions that do allow online gambling.
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The good news is that these sites are all perfectly safe even though they are located in other countries. All the top-rated Russian gambling sites are tightly regulated by their host nations and subject to regular audits to ensure fair, truly random games.
The bad news is that Russia’s crackdown on online gambling continues to this day. The government has instituted a number of measures that make it increasingly difficult for players to even access gambling websites and make real money deposits. Even worse, some lawmakers have called for instituting criminal penalties on players who access unauthorized gambling sites.
However, there are some glimmers of hope. In recent years, the government has softened its stance regarding online sports betting. Several local bookmakers have received licenses to offer real money sports bets over the internet and are already taking bets today. If the Russian effort to legalize and regulate sports betting is successful, perhaps it will eventually lead to a more accepting attitude towards online casino games and poker.
Online bookmakers that have been authorized to date:
Russian Gambling Laws
Gambling of all types was outlawed for the majority of the Soviet era in Russia with a general prohibition extending from 1928 to 1988. Gambling was reinstated in the late 1980s as the Soviet Union began to dissolve. Brick-and-mortar casinos quickly proliferated across Russia through the 1990s and early 2000s.
A 2005 report in the Washington Post noted 58 casinos, 2,000 gaming machines and 70,000 slot machines active in Moscow alone that year. The rapid growth and proliferation of gambling prompted Vladimir Putin in 2006 to introduce a complete ban on both real-world and online casinos in Russia.
The ban went into effect three years later (2009) and nearly every casino in Russia was shut down. The only exceptions to the new prohibitions were certain casinos located in exempted zones located far away from populated areas. The prohibition law originally stipulated there being four gambling zones in Russia, but ambiguity in the law has resulted in six zones that are either already in operation or under consideration:
- Siberian Coin
In more recent years, online casinos have come under increased scrutiny from Russian officials intent on stamping out all internet gambling other than that which takes place at licensed sports betting sites. The Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor began a censorship campaign in 2015 designed to block access to overseas gambling websites. The agency has ordered local internet service providers to block thousands of websites since then.
There are also laws in effect that could put individual gamblers at risk of fines if caught placing wagers at unlicensed online casinos in Russia. However, it seems that this particular law is rarely, if ever, enforced. The risk is there, but we believe the risk is minimal. As is the case in most anti-gambling nations, Russian authorities typically set their sights on those who organize online gambling rather than those who merely participate.
Depositing to and Withdrawing from Russian Casino Sites
The effort to eliminate Russian casino sites has also extended to the financial side of things. Payment processors located in Russia have been ordered to block all payments to/from offshore gambling sites.
Major payment processors Qiwi and Skrill were recently ordered to stop doing business with online casinos that continue to accept Russian players. These two services were among the most popular deposit methods for Russian players at one point and their loss has been a major blow to both casino sites and players in Russia.
On this backdrop of difficulty, Russians are increasingly turning to Bitcoin to fund their online casino accounts. Although there is a bit of a learning curve at the outset, Bitcoin is an extremely effective deposit method in which transactions are semi-anonymous and processed nearly in real time.
The government has taken note of the rise of Bitcoin and is currently mulling over what to do about the digital currency. At one point, certain Russian officials sought to enact severe penalties for anyone using Bitcoin in Russia. The Ministry of Finance even went so far as to recommend jail sentences of up to four years and financial penalties of up to 4,000 rubles for anyone using digital currencies such as Bitcoin.
Thankfully, that decree has not yet been passed and there are indications that the government may be softening its stance on digital currencies. A more recent report has indicated the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank are rethinking how they should handle Bitcoin. Rather than outlaw Bitcoin, the government may instead attempt to legalize and regulate the currency.