EPT Moscow cancelled?

Vitaly Lunkin
Poker in Russia: Niet!

Poker was effectively banned by the Russian Government Monday and the European Poker Tour's Moscow stop could be in jeopardy as a result.

The Russian Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism passed an order July 20 removing poker's status as a sport.

"We have made a change in the Russian list of sports, approved by the order of the Russian State physical training and sport committee on January 1, 2004," Russian Youth, Sport and Toursim Minister Vitaly Mutko said in a release. "We have stricken poker off the list."

According to the Ministry, this means anyone involved in any game of poker outside of specifically designated gambling zones could face prosecution.

Four designated gambling zones were established in Russia July 1, but all are at least 1,000 kilometers from Moscow, effectively closing more than 500 casinos and slot machine halls in the Russian capital.

Poker appeared to be exempt from the initial gambling ban because it was on a list of official sports in Russia drafted back in 2007 and several casinos continued to operate as card rooms after July 1.

However, Mutko now claims that was a mistake and has taken poker off the list.

"The decision to include poker on the official list of sports should be taken by special Ministry commission, but not by the chief of Russian State Physical Training and Sport Committee," Mutko said. "What's more, the decision should be registered by the Justice Ministry, which wasn't done."

The PokerStars European Poker Tour had planned to kick off its sixth season with a stop in Moscow August 17-23, but Monday's decision may leave the event in peril.

Officials at PokerStars and the European Poker Tour have yet to respond to queries regarding the status of the event.

The four designated gambling zones include Kaliningrad, the Primorsky region, the Altai region in Siberia and the cities of Krasnodar and Rostov, although construction at these sites is reportedly in the early stages and could be months or years from completion.

Poker has seen a huge boom in Russia since Russians Alexander Kravchenko and Ivan Demidov made the final table of the World Series Poker Main Event in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

PokerStars launched the Russian Poker Tour in 2008 with stops in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

2008 WSOP bracelet winner Vitaly Lunkin won the RPT Main Event in Moscow this past May, going on the win the 2009 WSOP $40k 40th anniversary event this summer.

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