Ritzio Betting on Europe as Russia Restricts Gambling

Ritzio Entertainment Group, the country's largest gaming company, plans to expand its presence in Germany and Italy and enter other European countries before gambling is restricted in its home market.

Ritzio has spent about $100 million this year buying 80 slot-machine halls in Germany, gaining from 1 percent to 2 percent of the local market, spokeswoman Larisa Shishkina said Friday.

The company is targeting as much as 15 percent of the German gaming market and plans to add to its business in Italy, where it has a venture with a local operator.

The government passed a bill in December that will allow gambling only in four areas of the country from July 2009, including one in the Far East and the exclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. The bill was proposed by President Vladimir Putin following concern across the nation that gambling was undermining morals.

"We have always aimed to diversify geographically and become Eastern Europe's largest gaming holding," Shishkina said. "The new law has pushed us to work faster and more dynamically."

Ritzio, whose chains include Vulcan, Million and City Casino, is controlled by billionaire Oleg Boiko, the country's 43rd-richest man, according to Forbes magazine.

The company generated $1.2 billion in sales last year and has about 900 gaming salons in Russia, Germany, Italy, Belarus, Ukraine, the three Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Romania, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico, Shishkina said.

Kommersant reported the German acquisitions Friday.