Big gamble - Russia's casinos close
Casinos and slot-machine halls across Russia have closed as a new law took effect that imposes sweeping new restrictions on the gaming industry.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the law, signed in 2006 by then-president Vladimir Putin in a bid to contain gambling addiction.
'The hall will be closed as of 7pm on June 30, 2009,' said the notice on one shuttered slot-machine hall in northern Moscow.
Other casinos are expected to refashion themselves into poker clubs under a quirk of Russian law that officially recognises poker as a sport rather than a game of chance.
The law marks the end of the era when businessman and gangsters who acquired fantastic wealth in the chaotic 1990s gambled it away in lavish casinos in central Moscow.
A special taskforce to ensure compliance with the law has been set up in the Russian capital, a spokeswoman for the Moscow city government, Maria Sokolova, told RIA-Novosti news agency.
From July 1, casinos may only operate in four remote regions of Russia, each of them at least 1,000km from Moscow and some much further.
The four designated legal gambling zones are in Russia's western Kaliningrad exclave; along the Azov Sea in the south; in the Altai region of Siberia; and in the far eastern Primorye region, near North Korea and Japan.
But the gaming industry has been reluctant to move there, given the regions' undeveloped infrastructure and difficulty of attracting customers to the far-flung locations.
The gambling law is expected to have the biggest impact on Moscow, which had 524 casinos and gaming halls until the law took effect, and the northern city of Saint Petersburg, which had 109.