In 2009, Russia banned casino gambling, except in some godforsaken places far away from where actual people live in any numbers. Surprise, surprise, surprise: As a result, illegal gambling has exploded in Russian metropolitan areas, apparently with the connivance of “law enforcement” officials. Recently, the Moscow Region Prosecutor and several deputies were suspended for suspicion of involvement in a massive gambling ring.
Russia Profile writes that the law actually increased corruption and the strength of gambling syndicates:
The law actually served to strengthen underground gambling rings, emboldening criminal elements and serving as a greater source of rents for corrupt police, said Evgeny Goroshko, a lawyer and representative of the Gaming Business Association. “Many illegal enterprises must function with the protection of the security services. And before they instituted a law like this one, they should have thought ten times – or as they say ‘measure twice, cut once’ – because we have an extremely corrupt system and everyone understood this perfectly. I personally thought ‘why is the government regulating the gambling business?’ Well, basically to shut down the legal sector and create an illegal one.’
RP further suggests that the investigation of the prosecutors was not the result of a sudden spasm of probity, but instead the consequence of conflicts between competing investigative authorities.
It’s no shock that the law has actually encouraged lawlessness and stoked corruption. The fact that such a result was so predictable suggests that this was part of the plan. I have been told by people who were involved in the “gaming industry” in Russia pre-ban that even legal operations had to pay to survive. But “banning” the activity only enhances the authorities’ opportunities for personal enrichment. Thus, it is more than plausible that this was a major reason behind the ban: that is, many of the ban supporters didn’t intend to reduce gambling, but to increase their take from it.
No doubt there were some in Russia who sincerely believed that banning gambling was a desirable social goal. But just as bootleggers in the American South who profited from the banning of alcohol benefited from the well-intentioned efforts of Baptists to drive out the demon rum, the sincere opponents of gambling in Russia were played, and played well, by those who cynically saw the ban as an opportunity.
Keep this in mind any time you read about any campaign in Russia to stamp out a vice. Not just in Russia, clearly (as illustrated by the Baptists and Bootleggers parable), but given the endemic corruption of legal structures in that country, the likelihood is far higher there that any anti-vice campaign is actually a cynical ploy.