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Why Does Vladimir Putin Want to Shut Down Moscow’s Casinos?

An interesting article by Steven Lee Meyers in the N.Y. Times says that there are more than 60 casinos in Moscow. According to the World Casino Directory, this is more than any other city in the world except for Las Vegas and Miami (where most of the casinos are on cruise ships).

But Vladimir Putin, who is “the only political authority that matters anymore,” as Meyers cunningly describes him, wants to ban gambling from Moscow entirely, perhaps establishing four gambling zones in far-flung regions including Siberia.


According to the article, gamblers spend $6 billion a year in Russia. I cannot imagine that Putin’s government, and perhaps Putin himself, haven’t gotten their cut.

Unlike the U.S., which has a very muddled relationship with gambling — casinos are okay (especially if they’re run by Indians), as are state lotteries, but online gambling is a big no-no — Russia would not seem to be a country whose moralism interferes with capitalism. I have spent a little time in Moscow and my wife spent years working and traveling throughout the F.S.U., and while there is an awful lot of traditionalism, there is also an awful lot of vice right out in the open, particularly in the big cities.

The Times article says that the country’s gambling boom has produced a backlash, with calls to protect gamblers from themselves. Pensioners are gambling away their pensions; fathers are gambling away their rent. So maybe Putin is simply responding to public sentiment. But that explanation fails to satisfy. Especially when I read that two Muslim regions, Chechnya and Dagestan, have also banned gambling: since when does Putin want to follow Chechnya? And does Putin really need to court public support?

One unhappy man quoted in the article, Michael Boettcher, is a Brit who owns some of the biggest casinos in Moscow. Maybe Putin is distraught that so many of the casinos are foreign-owned? But as I said above, I can’t imagine that Putin isn’t getting an appropriate rake from the casinos, regardless of their ownership.

So does anybody have any idea why Putin really wants to get rid of Moscow’s casinos?