Travel

Putin wants to make Crimea his own Russian Las Vegas

Vladimir Putin is feeling lucky.

Having recently annexed Crimea from Ukraine, the Russian president has presented a bill to the State Duma to establish the region as a premier gambling zone,RT reports. It will become Russia's fifth allocated gambling area, as stringent laws limit casinos to four other designated areas in Russia: Kaliningrad, Primorsky, Altai and Krasnodar.

But while gambling is legal in other regions, only one location, Azov City, has opened a casino. Despite a proliferation of billionaires, Russia has had trouble luring outside investment into the projects. Even worse, as Andrew Gellatly, the head of research group GamblingCompliance, told Bloomberg Businessweek, "Russian high rollers are more likely to gamble in London or Monaco than in one of the former Soviet republics."

Adding to the economic agony, Crimea faces a 2014 budget shortfall "predicted to be tens of billions of rubles". The New York Times notes that Russia has earmarked $2.85 billion for "all Crimean projects", while Putin's new version of Sin City is slated for completion by January 2015. 

The pro-gambling tack strays from Putin's previous record on gambling, as he cracked down on casinos during his first term in office. The strongman went so far as to call gambling "a dangerous addiction and a magnet for organized crime," according to Businessweek, and Russia eventually banned casinos altogether from the nation's capital and many of its larger cities.

Even so, the Russian president's renewed logic falls in line with that of countless other politicians dealing with struggling economies: Let's build a casino to save our faltering economy!

Chloe Pantazi is an editorial assistant on Thrillist's travel team. She's gambled once in London and won, but still has no idea how. Send her your best poker tips on Twitter at @ChloePantazi.