Using uncharacteristically stern language, President Dmitry Medvedev told Federal Tax Service chief Mikhail Mokretsov on Tuesday that he would tolerate no delays in moving all gambling to special regional zones within two months.
"It is imperative that these rules go into effect in due time. There will be no revisions, no pushing back -- despite the lobbying efforts of various businesses," Medvedev said at their meeting at his Gorki residence outside Moscow.
"This is the state's position," he said. "You have to control this process, and the activities of gambling establishments must cease on June 30."
New rules approved in late 2006 require all gambling establishments to move to one of four zones established for the industry by July 1 of this year. Casinos must be closed, and betting will be banned outside the zones, which are located in areas on the Azov Sea, in the Far East and in the Altai and Kaliningrad regions. The legislation was introduced to the State Duma by then-President Vladimir Putin.
The rules have come under fire from casinos and investors in the gambling zones, who have said that the zones don't have the infrastructure to build new casinos in time for the summer deadline.
Casino owners have said they will be forced to transform their establishments into less profitable restaurants, concert halls and even poker clubs to stay open in Moscow, their main market. There are currently 549 gambling establishments in the capital, Deputy Mayor Sergei Baidakov said last month.
The deadline for moving the establishments out of cities was changed once before the rules were signed into law, from the original date of January 2009. Last year, United Russia Deputy Alexander Popov offered to push the deadline to 2012 but later retracted his proposal without explanation.
Medvedev's firm position on the issue Tuesday could indicate a standoff between his word and the powerful gambling lobby, analysts said.
"The business is very influential and has a strong lobby, including in the Duma," said Dmitry Oreshkin, an analyst with the Mercator think tank.
He said it was no secret that the gambling industry pays large taxes and kickbacks, so many bureaucrats are interested in leaving gambling in Moscow. "If the lobby wins in delaying the deadline, it will essentially mean that the state's word means nothing, so it's important for Medvedev, who is trying to show he is a serious politician," he said.
Medvedev pressed Mokretsov over his readiness to deal with gambling businesses. "How ready is the Federal Tax Service to control gambling after the new rules go into effect?" he said, Interfax reported.
Mokretsov reassured the president that the tax agency, which has been given increasingly more control over the gambling industry in the past two years, was ready to "administer the business in the four gambling zones." He noted that the industry has shrunk by 42 percent in the first four months of 2009.
Mokretsov became tax chief in early 2007, replacing Anatoly Serdyukov, who went on to head the Defense Ministry. Prior to his work in the agency, Mokretsov worked for St. Petersburg's city tax department. "He is not a silovik, he is an intellectual," Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said in explaining Mokretsov's appointment at the time. "Siloviki" is a term applied to government officials with ties to the security services.