Russian President Vladimir Putin Signs Betting Overhaul Legislation

Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally signed legislation calling for the country’s online sports betting industry to be significantly overhauled.

Putin signed a series of laws on Wednesday introducing tighter regulation of Russia’s internet, including authorising the Roskomnadzor telecom watchdog to block online tools that are considered ‘discriminatory’ toward Russian media (aka Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), while also demanding biometric information from customers requesting access to some public and financial services.

But for Russian bookmakers, the attention was on Putin signing a bill approved earlier this week by lawmakers calling for the establishment of a Unified Gambling Regulator and the abolition of the two Self-Regulatory Organizations (SROs) that previously served local licenced betting interests.

The bill also calls for the creation of a single centralised payment processing centre, from which all Russian online betting would flow. The two existing payment networks operated by the two competing SROs will be replaced by this hub which will be managed by a single private company.

This private processor’s identity has yet to be made public (but has most assuredly already been fixed, given the speed with which this legislation advanced). Whoever it is, practically all data concerning online betting transactions in Russia will be open to them.

If the match in question includes a Russian sports federation or a global competition such as the English Premier League, this new hub will be responsible for removing 1.5 percent of the amount of any individual wager. While bookmakers are dubious that the bulk of the proceeds would meet their stated beneficiaries, the funds raised by this tax would allegedly help finance Russian sports activities.

Previous draft allowed bookmakers to contribute to each Russian sports federation a minimum RUB5m per quarter, but this was scrapped when bookmakers warned that they would stop offering markets to a Russian mumblety-peg league on all but the major Russian sports in order to avoid paying RUB20m per year.

Instead, regardless of their turnover, each Russian bookmaker will be forced to ante up to RUB30m (US$403k) per quarter of minimum payment to sport, adding around $1.6m to the annual nut of bookmakers. To absorb this blow, Russia’s larger bookies may be prepared, but some market minnows are expected to follow VulcanBet’s lead and halt their Russian operations before something close to sanity is restored.

After Putin had added his signature, the law was formally released online, beginning a 270-day countdown before all of the new rules took effect.

In what may or may not be accidental timing, Russian-licensed bookmaker Parimatch, which typically ranks fifth among Russia’s 21 licenced bookmakers in site traffic, announced that as of January 1, 2021, its vice-president Ruslan Medved will assume the position of CEO.

Dmitry Sergeyev, current CEO, who has held the position since May 2019, will now head up Parimatch operations in key regions of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the republics of the former Soviet Union). Medved was well wished by Sergeyev, saying that the new CEO has “everything he needs to achieve the most ambitious goals.” All, that is, except for a government that doesn’t see the betting industry clearly as a fat cow in need of milking.