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Russia: Reaching Out to the President

On July 1, 2009, a law came into force in Russia according to which the activities of casinos and arcade halls are banned. Several special ‘gambling’ zones on the territory of Russia have been allocated for those activities. In all other places, the activities of such gambling institutions should cease. It is clear that, in fact, not everyone wanted to close these profitable business; so in almost every city in Russia – from megapolises to small towns – underground premises have appeared where the casinos operate and slot machines still work. Such places usually do not have signs or exist under the names “entertainment club,” “Internet Club” or something similar.

At the end of 2010, a new website Gdecasino.ru [ru] (its slogan is “Find and Destroy”) has been created with the aim of gathering and publishing information about underground gambling houses in different cities of Russia.  At the moment, there are over 1,000 addresses provided there. The site also tracks the information on closing down the gambling premises: if this happens, the relevant information is posted on the site. The creator and developer of the platform is Anton Kheystver, an IT student from Russian city Saratov; however, the site is currently maintained by a group of volunteers from different cities.

The list of cities mentioned in the project gdecasino.ru, screen shot of the site

On March  14, 2011, the site had its “finest hour.”  During a meeting with the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev loaded the website on his iPad and showed the prosecutor that illegal gambling business does not only exist, but each address of the premises is known. Medvedev said [ru]:

I looked and there is even a special website called “Where is casino.” And, you understand, it is simply amazing, the website contains a huge list of our cities with casinos, there are several casinos in every city. I am not talking about such cities as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, there are hundreds of illegal casinos in small cities with addresses.  For example, let’s take Saint Petersburg; closed game club without a signboard : 22 Stremyannaya Street or 5 Marat Street, “RusLoto” on Lenya Golikov Street and so on [two addresses marked in gdecasino.ru as hosting illegal gambling sites – GV].

Medvedev especially noted that

We should encourage this kind of social activity and the attention of or citizens toward following the law. I want you to order the prosecutors to verify all information provided on the website, to check it out in every city.

The Prosecutor-General Chaika promised Medvedev to inspect all the addresses identified on the website. He also said that his office knows about this site and has already used its data. It is difficult to find out if it is true or not. But the case with Gdecasino.ru demonstrates one important thing: society can collect any information (on illegal casinos, potholes and other problems) as long as possible, but if this information is not used by the authorities and does not promote fixing the mentioned problems, then these sites are pointless.

Many projects have been recently created in Russia on the basis of crowdsourcing (or user-generated content (UGC)), when information on any particular topic is collected by internet users. Almost each one of these projects signalizes about a problem. For instance, the «Rospil.info» project collects information on corrupt and shady state purchases.  The association “Voice” runs the  “Emergency line” [ru] project  that gathers information on violation of rules during elections. The project «Map of problems in Vladimir city» [ru] collects information on all city problems. The project “Map of assistance during cold times,” developed by the same team as the site “Map of help to victims of fires,” collects data about people freezing due to the lack of heating. The project “Map of potholes” monitors the condition of the Russian roads and encourages people to send precise coordinates of the road pits. Many other projects can be mentioned here. Among them is also the site Gdecasino.ru.

The matter of principle for these projects is not only collecting, checking and publishing information from users on the existing problems, but also bringing the information to the state organs, which are obliged to solve these problems.

How are these problems solved? There are several options that can be used:

  1. Option “Official claim.” An address to a state organ responsible for solving a particular problem and supervision of adherence to laws in a relevant sphere is prepared based on information selected.
  2. Option “Agreement on cooperation.” A website and a relevant state organ make an agreement, which underlines that the state body takes the responsibility to check the information provided, respond to it and solve the existing problem.
  3. Option “Public noise.” A site can use technologies of public and PR campaigns to spread the word through blogs and social networks, the journalists start writing about that and the authorities have to react.

The fourth option was demonstrated by President Medvedev when he attracted the prosecutor’s attention to the site Gdecasino.ru. However, we can hardly hope that President Medvedev will thereby promote every similar project by giving instructions to relevant organs to respond to the information.

It would be ideal if monitoring projects developed by independent volunteer groups cooperated with every relevant ministry or other state organ.  If you monitor the problems of a region, you should try to achieve cooperation with the regional authorities. If you monitor issues of violence against younger conscripts in the army and harassment among servicemen, you should cooperate with the Ministry of Defense.  And so on. The most important in such situation for a project of social monitoring is to be independent from the relevant state organ and authorities as a whole. Under no circumstances should a project be funded by the state organ itself.

Open-minded authorities, who aim to improve people’s life, should be interested in the projects of independent monitoring and fixing the problems, which society is signalizing about. This kind of cooperation between the social projects and authorities seem to be needed and promising.

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