– It has been 13 years since the turning point happened in the Russian gambling business. Now we are moving along the path of development of gambling zones. During this time, the industry has experienced several global crises and upheavals. How would you characterize the period that is happening now. Is it a downturn, an upswing, or something else? What needs to be changed?
– The industry has really experienced a lot in these 13 years. And the last two crises had a strong impact on our direction. Having passed this long period, I can say with confidence that the gambling business does not develop in isolation from high-quality infrastructure, transport accessibility and the ability to cross state borders. The gambling business is one of the drivers of the tourism industry. Therefore, it is necessary to pay even more attention to the development of locations in which gambling zones are located. Of course, this applies to a lesser extent to Sochi, but it directly affects all other gambling clusters.
To grow and achieve stable results, it is necessary to have a predictable taxation. There should not be any additional regulators and initiatives that change the environment around entrepreneurs every year.
This business requires large investments, so I want to give more confidence to investors. They should be able to focus on creation and build a development strategy within a 10-year period of time.
– Gambling zones worked to generate a tourist flow from other countries to their regions. However, quite successfully. But in 2022, the tourism and air travel sectors began to work according to different rules, at least on our continent. How is the gambling business going to respond to such a challenge?
– At the moment, air communication is a huge pain for any location. After all, there is no faster way to get from one point to another. And now we have a situation in which the time for the flight has increased. First of all, this is critically reflected for short trips, for example, for a weekend from Moscow to Sochi or Kaliningrad. People are not used to spending 4-5 hours on a one-way flight. My words are perfectly illustrated by the example of Israel, because the citizens of this state are considered the most traveled, preferring countries with a range of 2 hours of flight.
Now a certain trend has been established in the world for the migration of a gaming tourist, but in Russia the effect is still minimal. During major events and large poker tournaments, gaming tourists may gather at a specific location. By the way, taking into account the current realities, our Association, together with the Union of Mind Games Participants, organized the Russian Poker Championship in order to give impetus to the development of all gambling zones through domestic tourism.
The current situation is a huge challenge for the entire gambling business. Personally, I see no other way but to relax the legal framework as much as possible in terms of visa restrictions. It is advisable to stop working on a mirror principle with foreign airlines. We need to open the sky for them and let them fly to our cities.
In such a scenario, I would like to see relief for foreign citizens regarding the import of foreign currency. This will allow foreigners to bring in larger amounts of money to be later exchanged for rubles and spent locally.
All this will allow us to open the financial flow of investments to our country. Before my eyes – an example of France and Italy. Due to tourism, these states attract billions of dollars to their budgets.
Russia has a huge potential in terms of attracting tourists and their funds. Of course, the political situation now complicates the use of bank cards, so tourists should be allowed to bring in cash. The funds will ultimately remain in our country and will fuel Russian businesses, from small to large.
All these measures will allow the gambling business to strengthen in a difficult period and regularly occupy high places in the taxpayer rating.
Domestic tourism is developing, which is good news. But statistics show that not many people travel. For Sochi, the figures are traditionally good, but the rest of the regions do not yet show a large increase.
I think that this season many tourists will go to Altai. This location should get a lot of new visitors. But for Kaliningrad and Sochi this year the situation has become more difficult due to the increased flight time. If we talk about Vladivostok, then it has always been difficult to attract Russian tourists to this city because of the distance and cost of the flight.
– Obviously, the trend towards the development of domestic tourism only continues to gain relevance. Are gambling zones planning to become part of some major tourism project. Or, perhaps, they themselves will act as initiators of such projects in their regions?
– The majority of investors developing the gambling business now receive good preferences in the construction of hotel infrastructure. Avoiding VAT for the next 5 years will be a good help for them and will reduce the payback period of projects.
As for additional development, accessibility and relocation of people to these locations. I would consider the possibility of switching to a simplified VAT for travel companies that deliver tourists and their accommodation in hotels.
Today, tour operators, cooperating with new hotels, will face the peculiarities of the occurrence of VAT on one side and its absence on the other. There is something to think about here.
And speaking globally, any initiatives that contribute to the openness of our country will allow us to provide an airbag in terms of foreign exchange earnings. And they will allow foreigners to fly in more often, spend more and take with them a good impression of Russia.
– Now it is difficult to find an industry that has not been hit by economic sanctions. What can the gambling business “boast” in this respect?
– I will say that the stable position of the gambling and tourism business is a consequence of the high well-being of domestic and foreign tourists. Today, export earnings are falling in most industries, importing companies have also lost a significant part of their income. Therefore, Western sanctions are certainly not encouraging.
But there are certain possibilities in this. As the saying goes, one door closes and another opens. A big driver has appeared for the development of local networks, for management companies, for the management of Russia. With the departure of foreign companies, Russian companies get a chance to develop and earn more. This is a huge window of opportunity for business.
– Opponents of the gambling business tirelessly talk about its harm to ordinary citizens. At the same time, the majority do not delve into the issue and do not know that all gambling zones adhere to a responsible gambling strategy. Could you elaborate on these principles and how it works in practice?
Yes, there are such initiatives. Such ideas are often hidden behind the socio-psychological health of society, but in practice they are aimed at extracting profit from additional transactions.
In turn, the Association has been working throughout Russia for a year now. And one of its fundamental principles is the protection of players and the business itself from various dubious stories and negative cases.
Previously, the gambling business in Russia had a negative reputation. Now, all the activities of gambling zones are aimed at ensuring that in a period of 5-10 years, non-gaming incomes overtake gaming ones, and the image of gambling zones becomes positive and attractive to their guests.
As for the strategy of responsible gambling. First of all, it involves working with “dependency”. These are guests who have limited themselves in the game. Guests losing more than they can afford. Guests who do not know how to stop in time. One of the tasks of the Association is to help gambling zones exchange such information. And this has already been successfully applied in practice. Gambling zone “Krasnaya Polyana”, gambling zone “Yantarnaya”, as well as “Altai Palace» and Vladivostok Tiger de Crystal work together in this direction. All members of the Association may restrict the player’s access to gambling, both at his initiative and at the request of his family members for a certain period.
And that’s not it. The Association protects the rights of business by exchanging information about unscrupulous visitors to gambling zones. We are talking about people who abuse trust or allow themselves fraudulent actions in relation to business.
Any responsible institution is pleased to see its guests as regular customers. Not a single gambling establishment aims to invite a player, get the maximum profit from him here and now, so as not to meet with him again. The management of gambling establishments works together, works to return players and generate positive emotions. And by no means for a one-time profit, which can leave a negative or even dramatic mark.
– Giving any forecasts is not an easy and often thankless task. But still, let’s try to imagine what will happen to gambling zones if the current state of affairs in international politics and economics continues for 2-3 years?
– Predictions are hard to make. The world is changing very quickly. The pandemic has shown that in 2-3 years we have learned to work in the local market. At the same time, we are always ready for foreign guests.
People were able to defeat the virus, supply chains started working in a new way. The world is becoming multipolar, no doubt. If the exchange rate is set at around 70 rubles per dollar, we will become even more attractive to foreign guests. Therefore, my forecast is that in 6-7 months the gambling business will adapt to new conditions. And by 2024, we will return the lion’s share of that foreign flow to all gambling zones in Russia.
I’m sure everything will be fine, we are optimistic about the future. And if there are no new regulatory initiatives, then the gambling business will become one of the key platforms for the development of the tourism business in Russia.