Sochi was once regarded by many as just another dilapidated resort in the Black Sea, but was revived thanks to the Winter Olympics. Now, as the host of the 2018 World Cup and the Russian F1 Grand Prix, this place could potentially become Russia's leading gambling destination.
The first casino ever to open in Russia's newest dedicated gambling zone, Sochi Casino Resort, has officially opened its doors last Thursday, January 5. Located in the mountainous resort of Gorky Gorod, Sochi, the posh casino's operator Domain LLC describes it as an "entertainment complex of a global scale" as well as "a unique concept for Russia in the spirit of the best casinos of Las Vegas."
The five-star facility houses a cabaret theater, restaurants, convention space, shops and other amenities, and represents the newest phase in Russia's zonal casino experiment.
In 2009, Russia cracked down on gambling, thereby closing down card clubs, electronic gaming halls and casinos in its major cities. All types of gambling were placed in four economic zones: Azov City in the Krasnodar region; Altai in Siberia; Primorye near the Pacific port of Vladivostok; and Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea coast.
Last 2016, the government of Russia said that the Azov City gaming zone shall be liquidated by 2019 so that all gaming operations will be focused in Sochi, probably to capitalize on its status as a host city of the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The government stated Azov City's three casinos will be compensated for the inconvenience.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is known to have a personal dislike for gambling, initially once said as soon as the 2014 Winter Olympic games were finished, that there were no plans for casinos in Sochi and that all facilities will remain a "family resort." However, later that year, he signed a law allowing casinos in Sochi, and also in Crimea, in a bid to make the place newly annexed from Ukraine economically self-sufficent.
Head of Russia's Federal Tourism Agency Evgeniy Kudelya said that the number of tourists has increased significantly during the past several years, and the demand for holidays in Russia, particularly in Sochi is very high, "Casinos will make a major contribution to the solution of ... the off-season problem. Despite the fact that Sochi is the most popular and one of the best resort areas in Russia, we have the off-season curve and it should be smoothed out."