Govt. gambling regulation bill passes 1st reading

MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) - The lower house of parliament passed Friday the first reading of a bill on the government regulation of gambling.

The bill went through with 300 votes in favor and 105 against with one abstention.

The document lists gambling activities in the country authorized by the government, which include casinos, slot machines, and bookmaker offices.

The bill also bans unlicensed gambling business, and encourages the consolidation of gambling businesses and regional quoting.

The bill, proposed by pro-presidential party United Russia, requires establishments to have net assets of at least 600 million rubles ($22 million) and the win percentage of a slot machine to be no less than 80%.

The minimal area of a casino should be at least 800 square meters and slot machine halls should cover at least 100 sq. m. Each casino should have at lest 10 playing tables.

With the gambling business flourishing nationwide, the bill also sets quotas on the number of gambling facilities in the country's 88 Federation members, which are to have one casino or slot machine hall per every 200,000 people. At the moment, Moscow alone has 56 casinos and 63,000 slot machines for a population of about 12 million.

A decision on distributing the quotas for new gambling facilities should be made by July 1, 2007. The distribution of permits will be conducted via auctions organized by individual Federation members.

The bill further prohibits gambling facilities in residential blocks, kindergartens, schools and other educational facilities, in hospitals, passenger hubs, airports, the subway, and religious and cultural buildings.

People under the age of 18 will not be permitted to gamble.

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