The Oban Blog

Online gaming in Russia

An interesting game of hide and seek for adults, by Greig Holbrook, Director, Oban Multilingual.

We all know from our childhood that the most interesting things are forbidden. In the same respect, for the Russian online gaming market, one could say the most italic thing is forbidden.

As of July 1, 2009, gambling was banned in Russia with the exception of four remote regions of the country (special zones). The only exception to this was sportsbetting, which is maintained under a strict licensing system regulated by the Gambling Law of 2007. All other forms of gambling have all been put on the black list including poker which, interestingly, enjoyed a brief listing as one of Russia’s recognised sports before being promptly removed in 2009. Russian law also expressly prohibits online gaming, although the risk of enforcement action against unauthorised Internet gambling is low as long as the operator has no physical presence in Russia.

So how is it that today, many online gaming companies have their greatest success in Russia? The restrictions, put into place by the Russian government, forced many online gaming companies to think outside the box. The restrictions also opened up huge opportunities for companies based outside of Russia (offshore jurisdictions such as Malta, Jersey and Gibraltar). Russia has ultimately become the ideal target for them, as they still managed to access their target audiences, operating their services under a non-local domain (.com for example).

This does appear to be a bit like playing hide and seek with the government, yet it has been the ideal solution for international online gaming providers in engaging Russian consumers without getting fined.

It is needless to say that obvious paid advertising or banner links for online games have also been declared illegal. Again, this prohibition only applies for fully local Russian sites. At this stage, you might be wondering how Russian customers will ever find you if you are not allowed to advertise. It could be said that many of the large gaming operators are applying the “If the mountain can’t come to me, I must go to the mountain” principle.

Many online gaming companies advertise indirectly by placing unobvious banners on Russian websites – which link to country-external online gaming promo pages – and even offer their services in Russian. Since the ban, people who used to play in land-based casinos have now been looking for substitutes on international gaming sites. Ultimately, this has led to an increasingly successful environment for gaming operators.

How to be found
It is no secret that in Russia, Yandex has been constantly outperforming Google. The search engine is dominant in the Russian space with a 70 percent market share and being partly owned by the government, Yandex is quite a challenging engine for online gaming companies. In order to develop the best search strategy, operators must be aware of some of Yandex’s core functionalities.Yandex comes with different rules and requirements which are aligned with Russian law, therefore, a simple Google on-page and off-page optimisation strategy would not be very effective. By way of example, the most important factor to consider is Yandex’s inability to read non-local links and index content from foreign domains. This is due to the less sophisticated algorithm, however, it could also be considered intentional in order to give bias to Russia’s own businesses in the booming online environment and avoid International online gaming platforms

How to overcome the Yandex hurdle
Operators and affiliates should ensure they obtain as much information as possible prior to developing a strategy. Be aware that Yandex is a lot slower than Google and only crawls sites every one to two weeks (as opposed to one to two days with Google). As a result, it takes much longer to measure the results from SEO campaigns. All the more reason then, to make sure you start from the most educated point.

Some ‘dos’ and ‘dont’s’

ƒDon’t expect links from .com domains to have the same extensive impact on Yandex as they do on Google.ƒ

Don’t place your Russian content on a foreign domain ( / .fr etc…) – .ru is the best solution – where this isn’t legal, use a sub-directory or subdomain of .com.ƒ

Don’t engage any search agency that can’t provide credentials of Russian search knowledge and experience. ƒ

Do research and speak to fellow operators or affiliates that have experience in Russia and particularly with Yandex.

Do ensure to operate as locally as the law will allow – researching your keywords locally and building your links locally is crucial.ƒ Do check the indexing of your content by Yandex regularly and re-submit where appropriate.