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Moscow night life adds toss of the dice

July 25, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Mike Hanna

MOSCOW (CNN) -- An after-hours outing in Moscow may surprise some visitors. The once drab city now boasts a night life reminiscent of some U.S. entertainment districts -- most notably Las Vegas and New York's Times Square.

After the sun sets, the Russian capital is a lively place with bars, restaurants and teeming crowds. But most of all, there are casinos.

Burton

"When I first came here, there were three small casinos. Now there are 72. This has happened in the last four years," said Victor Burton, director of operations for Casino Royale.

"There's no banking like we know in the West. You don't see a Russian walk around with a checkbook so he can deposit his money and withdraw it. He carries it and therefore he will spend it," Burton said. "There's a tremendous cash flow in this city."

But some authorities do not approve, arguing that gaming is nothing more than an invitation to crime.

Luzhkov

"We're going to clean up certain sleazy places like casinos and gambling clubs. We'll determine their optimal number and tighten control over them," said Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. "In my opinion, this number should not exceed five. That'll be plenty for Moscow."

Sleazy is hardly a word that applies to upper-market venues like Moscow's Club Royale. Casino tables are filled not with thieves or gang bosses, but with people who appear to be solid, prosperous citizens with money to spend. And, they didn't appear to share the mayor's or the media's ideas about a casino.

"If you ever watch a TV show about a casino, it's always the Mafia, it's always the crooks. No one ever gets married in a casino. No one falls in love in a casino," Burton said.

police raid

In Moscow, however, you can get arrested in a casino. The mayor, true to his word, is cracking down. Recently, the crackdown included a raid on a gaming house that the police insist was laundering money and evading taxes.

In the end, the crackdown on casinos is not really about crime, it's about control -- in particular of the billions of rubles that aren't being paid in taxes.

It's part of a wide campaign by the authorities that the upper-market casinos are not opposed to.

"They've made a major change to the whole country and they are coming to terms with what they have to do to implement the controls, and taxation is one of the major ones," Burton added.

Regardless of the rumblings of the politicians, gambling is in Moscow to stay.

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