The Strange Gambling Scene Within Russia

Professional football and gambling have always coexisted together, and the 2018 World Cup will see thousands of people descending on Russia for the related events. Football is always a popular sport to bet on.

Since there will be so many people involved in betting on the teams whether anyone likes it or not, it’s vital to understand the situation of Russian law and gambling. The short answer is that gambling is legal in Russia, but of course the situation is complicated in that it is fully legal in 6 different authorized regions but online gambling is completely illegal.

State-run lotteries and sportsbooks are legal throughout the country though they are somewhat limited in number. What this does mean is that you can definitely bet on the teams if you’re attending any of the World Cup events and not have to worry about getting arrested for something that’s illegal. There’s a loophole in the law about online gambling though: Russians can still access gambling sites from other countries. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that you may not be able to access some gambling sites in Russia.

The Russian government is quite open to the idea of tourist gambling, and indeed had added Sochi to the list of authorized regions in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Since the 2018 World Cup is spread out over several different cities, it’s reasonable to presume that the government may open up more gambling zones to cater to the desires of foreign tourists who are eager to play some slot machines or roulette while attending the events in Russia.

Interestingly, the relationship between gambling and tourism in Russia has been close ever since the last days of the Soviet Union. All forms of gambling had been banned across the country by the Soviet government back in 1928, but slot machines were introduced into hotels authorized by the USSR State Committee of Foreign Tourism exactly 60 years later. The following year, the ban on gambling was lifted and more than 50 casinos opened across the country between 1989 and 2002. This was the status quo up until 2009, when gambling was banned except in four authorized regions. Online gambling had been allowed until 2017, when it was also banned.

The Russian government has a somewhat bizarre policy on how gambling is taxed, but the good news is that you won’t have to pay taxes on anything that you don’t win. If you win money in a casino, the government takes 13%, which isn’t taken directly but you’ll have to declare it on a tax form and pay the money that way. With sports betting, the government usually just takes the bookmaker’s share and you’ll get all of your winnings.

Some studies suggest that the equivalent of $11.8 billion is spent every year on sports betting in Russia, but only 35% goes to state-approved institutions. Indeed, illegal gambling has thrived in the country since 2009 and remains unchecked. It would seem that Putin’s attempt at curtailing illegal activities by enacting a gambling ban has backfired in that it has basically led to a thriving black market that therefore cannot be taxed.

The fact is that there seems to be a bigger appetite for gambling in Russia than the government seems to acknowledge. Hopefully the World Cup won’t be tainted by illegal gambling.