There may be some good news on the horizon for online poker players in Russia, because the country is considering to allow its 144 million residents to legally play on the Internet.
Business Insider contributor Robert Carmona-Borjas reported that the Russian government is considering designating poker as a game of skill, which could be the first step in creating a regulated online poker licensing scheme in the country.
If Russia approves regulated online poker, it would be an about-face from many laws and proposed legislation to prohibit its residents from playing. Just a few months ago, the country introduced legislation to prohibit banks from accepting online gaming transactions.
Also last year, the country was considering a ban on VPNs and Tor services, which many of its residents use to play on blacklisted sites, including some of the biggest sites in the industry such as PokerStars, partypoker, Unibet, and TitanPoker.
Carmona-Borjas estimates that 20 million Russian residents, or 16 percent of its population, are playing online despite the ban. Since poker is not regulated in Russia, it is believed that the government is currently not receiving any tax revenue from gaming operators.
Moscow politician and lawyer Alexander Zakondyrin supports this notion especially due to the financial crisis caused by sanctions and low oil prices, stating that, “Russians play poker, but their money goes abroad. In the crisis situation, low oil prices and sanctions against Russia, which excludes the use of foreign debt markets, Russia's budget needs additional income.”
Zakondyrin believes that 8.4 percent of the players on the world's largest real-money online poker room PokerStars are playing from Russia. He is also under the opinion that regulation isn't a matter of if, but when.
"In my opinion, conceptually the decision to legalize online poker has been already made by the Russian government," Zakondyrin recently stated. "As early as June 2014, [Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor] Shuvalov instructed the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on such a project's prospects."
Some poker players also believe the country should be regulating online poker if not for the rights of its citizens, but for the lost tax revenues.
Russian poker player Maxim Katz recently stated, "In particular, poker went underground after the ban. The game did decline, but not for long. And the [national] budget stopped receiving taxes."
It is believed that if Russia is seriously considering to create an online poker licensing regime, it could take time to implement with many negotiations.
*Image courtesy of Yaroslav Ushakov/FreeImages.com.