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    Upper house passes bill on gambling zones in Russia

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    Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, passed a bill Wednesday on setting up four gambling zones in the country.

    MOSCOW, December 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, passed a bill Wednesday on setting up four gambling zones in the country.

    The bill is aimed at tackling the rise in gambling outlets throughout Russia.

    President Vladimir Putin proposed the new law after the Interior Ministry launched an operation to check the financial, tax and sanitary-epidemiological documents of several gambling establishments in the capital allegedly linked to the Georgian mafia.

    The draft law bans gaming facilities operating outside specified zones, which are planned to be located in the Altai Territory (southwest Siberia), Primorye (Far East), the Kaliningrad Region (Russia's exclave on the Baltic Sea), and on the border of the Rostov Region and the Krasnodar Territory in the south of the country.

    The bill envisions the establishment of two types of zones where gambling will be permitted. If it is passed, the new rules will come into effect on July 1, 2009.

    The first type of zone is in residential areas. These can be established on land allocated for urban and rural development. The federal government will issue permits to gambling establishments in these areas, in coordination with local authorities.

    Permits will be issued for five years, and will allow each organizer to set up one gambling facility per permit.

    The second type consists of gambling zones established on parcels of land belonging to federal or municipal authorities, not allocated for urban or rural development. These plots will be leased to the owners of gambling businesses by the Russian government.

    The draft also outlines requirements for the owners of gambling establishments. Owners must be Russian companies that have not been created by the government or local authorities, and whose net assets are not less than 600 million rubles (about $22.4 million).

    The bill also outlaws Internet-based gambling, and sets a minimum gambling age of 18 years.

    Under the new law, gaming outlets or slot machines must not be located in apartment buildings, street kiosks, childcare centers, educational or healthcare institutions, railway terminals, airports, seaports, public transport, passenger lounges and waiting areas, sports facilities, state and government agencies, or religious organizations.

    All gambling businesses that fail to meet the requirements proposed in the bill will be shut down after July 1, 2007.

    Those establishments that meet the requirements will be allowed to operate without special permits until January 1, 2009, when the new law comes into effect.

    In a bid to restrict gambling, Moscow has already removed 70% of gaming facilities from the city since the beginning of this year, the chairman of the Moscow administration's commission on gambling business said last week.

    Iosif Ordzhonikidze said that since the beginning of this year 1,954 gaming facilities were removed from the Russian capital, which amounts to 70.5% of the total, while 241 gambling facilities are about to be closed, which will leave only 546 such facilities in the city with a population of around 11 million people.

    The bill will have to be signed by the Russian president before it becomes law.

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