Bookies Back at Horse Tracks

MTA relief outside a Moscow hippodrome. A law passed Monday lets state racetracks operate bookmakers.
President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law changes to the federal rules on gambling, allowing state and municipal hippodromes to run on-site bookmakers, the Kremlin said in a statement Monday.

The decision came after this month’s government crackdown on the gambling industry, in which casinos, slot machine halls and poker clubs were moved to four distant and underdeveloped regions around the country.

The changes were introduced by deputies from two pro-government parties — Oleg Valenchuk, from United Russia, and Mikhail Starshinov, from A Just Russia. The State Duma passed the bill on Wednesday, and the Federation Council approved it Saturday, the Kremlin statement said.

Leonid Vitchak, chief of the privately owned Rostov-on-Don Hippodrome, called the government’s decision timely and useful.

“It is widespread around the rest of the civilized world to bet at the races. Why should Russia be left out of this?” he told The Moscow Times.

There are 40 racecourses in Russia, of which nine are private. Private horse racetracks were allowed to keep bookies, which play a major role in the industry’s income, estimated at anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of their total.

The head of the Central Moscow Hippodrome, Leonid Efros, declined to comment on the law.

But Vitchak said no competition should be expected among the country’s largest racecourses. “All major Russian racetracks have their own clienteles,” he said.

The state cracked down on the gambling business, banning all casinos and bookmakers in Russia after July 1, and ordered them to move to four special gambling zones in the Far East, Altai and Kaliningrad regions, and on the border between the Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar regions.

The move has been portrayed as a way to reduce crime and addiction to gambling.

Under the law Medvedev signed Monday, bookmakers and private betting offices must receive a license to operate outside the gambling zones. To receive a license for a bookmaker, a private racecourse’s assets should be worth no less than 100 million rubles ($3.2 million).

Two of the largest privately owned hippodromes, in Rostov-on-Don and Pyatigorsk, have already received licenses.

Medvedev’s backing of the changes also came two weeks after he hosted an informal summit of CIS and other regional leaders on July 18 at the Central Moscow Hippodrome, where races including the President’s Cup were held.