Anyone who has been to Russia will have noticed that the newest, smartest, and often most substantial buildings in the country tend to be casinos. I used to wonder where people got the money to gamble enough to support half a dozen casinos in a town, before I realised that by skipping on things like meals and other luxuries, it is quite possible to throw most of your wages down a slot. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is no different from the rest of Russia in this regard, and probably features more casinos than other cities because of the large Korean population, who seem to have inherited their love of gambling from their brethren back in the old country. I had visited a few casinos, not to gamble so much as a rouble, but because some of them operate 24-hours with a restaurant attached – perfect for getting a load of Korean food at 7:00am when you’ve just staggered from a nightclub into blinding daylight.
Anyway, word on the street, or rather, what my wife heard in a club last night, was that Putin has brought in a new law which will outlaw casinos across Russia, limiting them to only a few cities. I have no idea whether this is true or not, and if you are interested I suggest you keep an eye on blogs which are much better at covering political announcements eminating from the Kremlin than mine. But one thing is certain, or so my wife tells me, and that is several of the casinos across the town have been shut down recently. In yet more unsubstantiated, heard-at-the-smoking-area developments, the only casinos which will be allowed to remain open are those owned by the governor of Sakhalin, thus forcing all business into his arms.
I must stress, I have no idea if this is true or not, and I am idly speculating here without bothering to do any proper research. But the casinos have closed for some reason, and others remain open for business. I this is indeed what is going on, I cannot think this will be without consequences. Russia’s rulers throughout history have reliably complained about the disobedience of the provinces, usually in reference to parts of Siberia, and the remoteness which allows them to ignore many of Moscow’s directives. In some ways, Sakhalin Island is the same. Hopelessly remote from Moscow, the residents have an island mentality, resistant to outside interference, especially from spoiled Muscovites who seek to lord it over those toughing it out in the far east. Okay, I might be exaggerating the extent of this mentality, but it does exist. Now the type of people who own and operate casinos in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk are the type of people who own and operate casinos everywhere: not the type of people you’d want to be on the wrong side of. They have grown pretty rich over the last few years as the island has been booming, and I can’t see them being very impressed with their source of income being shut off and directed elsewhere: be it to favoured cities in mainland Russia, or into the governor’s pockets.
Knocking out one or two of the most shady, wealthy businessmen in a strategicaly important yet remote town in far-eastern Russia might be done without too much noise. But taking on a dozen of them at once might prove to be a dangerous gamble. Assuming any of this is true, of course.