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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PEOPLE IN BUSINESS: Casino Manager Sets Sights on Sochi




Maier has his eyes on Turkey where Islamic influence has ended gambling.


SOCHI, Southern Russia -- Life is a gamble, but Peter Maier takes this piece of traditional wisdom more seriously than most.


Last week, Maier opened up Sochi's newest and plushest casino, the Caesar Palace. But the waterfront gaming house is just the latest in a line of successful casinos started by the man who eight years ago became Russia's first foreign casino manager.


Maier's passion for chance stems from one of the Cold War's hottest film icons, the James Bond series, which produced a casino scene in the thriller Dr. No that left an impression on him back in 1969, when he was only 20 years old.


"I decided then and there -- that is the life for me," Maier recalls of the felt tables and chic clientele. Since that fateful day almost 30 years ago, casinos have been a second home for Maier, a native of the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany.


Maier's stake in Russia dates back to 1990, when a trip to Russia in search of adventure led to a life-changing decision that Moscow could use a casino or two.


He hasn't left since, kicking off the country's first casino at Moscow's Leningrad Hotel and later helping to launch several others, including the capital's Bombay Express and Tropicana and St. Petersburg's Hollywood casino at the Europa Hotel.


Casinos have come a long way in Russia since 1990, and Maier likes to think that part of the change is due to him. The young people he trained to be dealers at the Leningrad almost a decade ago are now managers at many casinos around Moscow, he says.


"Russians seem to have a natural gift," says Maier, who himself started as a dealer and worked his way up the hierarchy to become floor manager of Baden-Baden's largest operation.


It was at the Tropicana that Maier first ran into the Caesar Palace investors, who asked him to take a look at Sochi.


"My first reaction was: 'What's Sochi?'" Maier recalls. "Once I got here, saw the town and studied the potential, I realized what a good thing this could turn out to be."


Since January, he's been holed up in the Black Sea town, planning his latest endeavors to lure not only Muscovites but also international gamblers to Sochi.


In the works are weeklong and weekend package tours aimed at luring Muscovites back to their traditional resting ground, where they can take in the spa waters during the day and play the gaming tables at night.


But Maier has an eye not only on the pocketbooks of the million or so Russian tourists who visit Sochi each year. He also hopes to tap the Turkish market just across the Black Sea, where Islamic influence recently put an end to gambling.


Another huge potential, he says, lies in the Middle East, particularly Israel, where millions of Russian immigrants have fond memories of the Black Sea.


The plan envisions chartered planes loaded with tourists wending their way to Sochi, where they will be met by a limousine and kept in luxuriously renovated rooms at the Zhemchuzhina Hotel.


Maier hopes to have the tourist packages in full swing by the end of the year, and sees the big spending propensity of Russians as a boon for the casino business in Russia. As the country's incomes grow, more people will be able to afford entertainment.


"Casinos are now passing into the hands of big businessmen who are taking this business very seriously and are prepared to invest large sums," he says. "There is no place now for small adventurers."


Casual, however, is what makes the Russian gambler so appealing, he says. With only eight years of gambling under their belt, Russians still see it as a way to pass the time, rather than make money.


"Back home you can see these guys at the tables frantically calculating exactly how much they have won or lost," Maier says. "In Russia, they just like to have fun."