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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Oryol Gambling Halls Refuse to Close Doors

MTGambling addicts are still playing in Oryol, as local gambling hall owners are ignoring a regional law to close down.
ORYOL -- Although Olga does not gamble, she is no stranger to poorly lit gambling halls -- like many other women, she accompanies her husband to make sure he doesn't squander the family savings.

Life should have gotten better for the 37-year-old resident of Oryol, which was one of the first 20 regions where a gambling ban took effect in July. But her husband, Sergei, 50, is still gambling.

The establishments' owners have refused to shut their doors after a law passed by the Oryol regional government on June 30 took effect the next day. They say the law is unconstitutional because it contradicts the content of a federal gambling law passed in December.

"For six months, we prepared for the implementation of the federal law, investing accordingly and buying equipment. We don't want all of our efforts to be in vain," lawyer Artur Kazakov said on behalf of the owner of several Sharovaya Molnia gambling halls in Oryol. Kazakov would not give his client's name.

The federal law, although it will ultimately limit gambling to four designated areas in the country, allowed gaming halls already operating to remain open until July 1, 2009, as long as they met a number of conditions, including size, financial backing and location requirements.

But the Oryol law took the owners by surprise.

The owner of another establishment, Mikhail, who said he didn't want to give his last name for fear of "letting down his employees," also spent six months preparing his business to conform to the federal legislation.

"There was no preliminary information whatsoever about the law," he said. "I can't lay off my whole staff in one day. If I did, they would all sue me. What would I do then?"

According to the Labor Code, businesses must give employees two months' notice ahead of closing, meaning they are guaranteed two months' salary from the time they are informed. The 24-hour warning the gambling businesses received made this impossible,

The owners say the two laws contradict each other in a number of other areas, making it impossible to comply.

Kazakov and Sergei Oveshnikov, Mikhail's lawyer, said that in cases where federal and regional laws are contradictory, the federal law takes precedence.

"The Constitution spells out a number of civil rights, including the right to participate in entrepreneurial activities, which can be limited only by federal laws," Oveshnikov said.

"The local law is a violation of the principles of federal governance," he said.

Oveshnikov said his client's business had been registered properly, held all the required licenses through 2009 and was in compliance with the new federal regulations.

An independent deputy in the Oryol region legislative assembly, Marina Ivashina, said she was the only deputy in the regional council of 50 deputies to have opposed the instant ban. The lawmakers had been warned that if they voted against the bill, they would face harsh criticism for being unpatriotic and for damaging public mental health.

"The deputies received the bill two weeks before it was passed on June 30," Ivashina said. "But according to our procedural rules, we had to have a minimum of 20 days so that we could prepare the amendments on time."

The deputies passed the bill in the first reading quickly, because they thought there would be time to pose amendments for the second reading. But they were then pressed to pass the bill in both readings in 10 minutes, she said.

So for now, the gambling halls remain open in a sort of legal limbo.

In one, a scattering of daytime customers sat silently on high, round, backless stools in front of slot machines, their eyes glued to the screens painted in tacky colors -- the calm was broken only by monotonous electronic sounds from the machines.

Olga, for one, said she would rather the gambling parlors closed now, federal law or no federal law. Sergei's betting losses have already forced them to sell their BMW, and she would be glad for any help at cutting their losses.