Igor Ballo: Law is always better than lawlessness
- How did you get to the gambling business? What did you start from?
It was the end of eighties last century. I came across the book about Lucky Luciano. He was such a famous gangster...I read about him and gambling business. Then I thought that if such business was so popular in other countries, why would it not be like that in Russia?
Perestroika was at full blast, law was changing in all areas. It was obvious that Russia would follow the way of democracy, economy would develop and the amusement business, which practically had not existed, should be built. In the USSR there just appeared first slot machines, so I bought two of them, which previously had served on the ferry „Szot Rustaweli”.
I put them on Smolenkie. After few days I counted my income and came to conclusion that it was high time to change dentistry for gambling, which did not function as a business activity then. Next, my first amusement arcades and first casino called „Club N” came into being, in which the Soviet Union citizens played with roubles...
- Together with friends you established the Association of Gambling Business Members, one of the most influential gambling organisations in Russia. What was its role in the past and what would it be now, in new reality?
When we were establishing the Association, gambling business was at initial stage. Formally it came into being on 15 January 1992. Till then there were about ten casinos and several dozen of salons. In law there was only the ordinance about licencing and taxes. Tax rate was incredibly high – 70% of enterprises income. When we established the Association, rate was unfrtunetely increased to 90%. We started to talk with legislators and representatives of executive power in regions. We worked out documents that were accepted in Moscow in 1993, but they were used also in other regions of Russia.
The Association was an initiator of summoning the first commission of gambling in Moscow. For some time our specialists have participated in it and many times helped officials in understanding what was going on in that business. It was good for a long time, the market was calm. In 1998 we stopped cooperation and after two years gambling business changed totally. It seemed to be worst and in 2003 there was total chaos. Everybody who had enough fantasy occupied with gambling.
After accepting critical act (“On national regulation of activity in the area of organisation and conducting gambling games” – from edit.) situation has gone really bad. With every day gambling business in Russia is smaller and smaller. In more than half of regions from 1 January 2008 it stopped functioning at all. Now the Association cannot do anything, while two years ago it was possible to save whole gambling business. Unfortunetely, nobody wanted to listen to us. Now you can see consequences...
- How do you assess the future of Russian gambling business?
I think that there is future, but it will not happen neither tomorrow, nor the next day. We all believe in change of the act and it should happen someday. When? Nobody knows. Government and parliament have other things to do now.
- How do you consider gambling business in Europe? Will societies try to limit it like in England, not mentioning Greece or Norway? What does it depend on?
Gambling business should be always limited. Apart from acts, we need special national offices, for example the commission of gambling, that supervise obeying the law by the market participants, and itself “have their fingers on the pulse”. That business is not capable of self-regulation, state control is necessary, which may force businessmen to obeying law and punish cheats. If the state performs its functions well, its citizens are pleased, although some businessmen do not support that. The most important I want to say us is that law is always better than lawlessness.
If it is about Europe, there function many models of controlling gambling business by the state – from total interference to staying aside. It is worth to search for the golden mean, not allowing to what happened in Greece or Norway and not acting like officials in Ukraine.
- What influence on the European and world gambling will have events after 1 July 2009? What will be the consequences?
Russian businessmen will move abroad – to Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, Italy, even Argentina. Our machines are just now being sold there. I don’t know how it is going to influence Russian businessmen, but I know that big amount of machines may “blow up” many calm so far markets. I think mainly about Ukraine, Belarus and Romania.
- What is attractive for you in gambling? Can you imagine situation when you have to do something else – as president Putin suggests?
I have functioned in gambling business for almost 20 years. I may say that I am professional. I have organised its different forms from lotto to big casinos. Currently, my business is concentrated abroad – in countries of Africa and Asia. Obviously I would prefer to work here, in Russia. Not only work, but create real, civilised gambling business, regardless of its history in my country and that it is practically forbidden. I believe that everything will be normal. Many businessmen will not stay here, but I will and try – again as the first – to lay foundations of new gambling branch.