Monday, June 29, 2009

The New Russia is starting to sound a lot like the old Russia

One of my earliest memories of my great-grandfather Joe is of watching him sit in his overstuffed chair playing solitaire, drinking beer and practicing card tricks all the while mumbling under his breathe in a variety of languages - although mostly it was Russian. He was a mammoth man, and despite the fact that he could barely walk (even when sober) and he needed a cane at all times; he still wore a sense of danger and menace which never entirely left him in drink or death.

He would practice for hours on end and most of us never lingered too long by his chair if great-grandmother was hovering around. There was most definitely a war in that house for affection of the tribe, and mostly, we publicly sided with great-grandma if only because we were all terrified of crossing her. If there was a picture of fierce-some rage in the dictionary you would see her exact image.

But there were times when she wasn’t around and I would sit at his knee and we would chat. He showed me all kinds of gambler’s tricks including how to count cards and other ways to cheat. Although, he did refuse to call me anything but Rose no matter how many times I corrected him. In any other family this might seem strange but changing your name was rather a common occurrence in mine. From time to time he even allowed me to sip his beer but considering I wasn’t terribly fond of beer it wasn’t much of a perk. Although having beer on my breath never failed to impress my older male cousins so I got some mileage creds from pretending to go sip for sip with grandpa Joe.

I was the only one he did that with and I was the only one he taught to count cards and cheat. He said it was because I was the only sensible one who understood it was a fool’s game to bet against the house. I am not sure he was right about the sensibleness but he did instill in me a healthy contempt for gambling in all forms, and I remain convinced, the only people who are amoured of gambling have poor mathematical skills.

This little stroll down memory lane comes courtesy of Russia’s Putin campaign to stamp out vice of gambling in Russia. NY Times

MOSCOW — One of the largest mass layoffs in recent Russian history is to occur on Wednesday, and the Kremlin itself is decreeing it, economic crisis or not.
And in a move that at times seems to have taken on almost farcical overtones, the Kremlin has offered the gambling industry only one option for survival: relocate to four regions in remote areas of Russia, as many as 4,000 miles from the capital. The potential marketing slogans — Come to the Las Vegas of Siberia! Have a Ball near the North Korean Border! — may not sound inviting, but that is in part what the government envisions.

All the same, none of the four regions are prepared for the transfer, and no casino is expected to reopen for several years. As of July 1, not even two decades after casinos began proliferating here in the free-for-all post-Soviet era, the industry’s workers will be out on the street.

(…)The law that started the whole process was introduced in 2006 by Mr. Putin, then the president and now the prime minister, who spoke of the perils of the blackjack tables and the one-armed bandits, of shady characters having a grip on the industry.

(…)The gambling industry here does not have the loftiest of reputations, and many Russians will not grieve for it. Still, many of the 40 or so casinos in Moscow sought in recent years to behave more respectably, even as hundreds of slot-machine parlors retained a seedy, enter-at-your-own-risk feel.

The gambling industry says the ban will leave more than 400,000 people without work in Russia, at a time when it has been hard hit by the economic downturn: the World Bank predicts the economy will contract by 7.9 percent this year. The government has put the figure at 60,000 people, though industry analysts say that is absurdly low.

(…)After the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991, gambling sprang up everywhere in Russia, from first-class locations in Moscow to side-alley hangouts in the provinces. The crazy-quilt growth was something of a metaphor for capitalism here, full of possibilities and schemes and corruption.

The industry has been largely unregulated, and especially in recent years, almost anyone could get a license, for as little as $50. Russia is not a strait-laced place — rates of smoking and drinking are high — but an outcry about gambling ensued. “It is not only young people, but also retirees who lose their last kopecks and pensions through gambling,” Mr. Putin said in 2006.

All of which means - there are now new fortunes to be made running underground gambling dens in Moscow.

1 comment:

wazir said...

nice wrieteup!