Online casinos, which include Azino777, are banned in Russia. The punishment for their organization is a fine of up to 1 million rubles. and imprisonment for up to six years. You can not even advertise gambling, punishment - a fine of up to 500 thousand rubles. In response to all this, the owners of online casinos just chuckle: 'It is impossible to block the Internet' - and they continue to work, creating hundreds of mirrors, registering companies in offshore zones and obtaining international licenses for gambling.
The global market of online gambling (from English gambling - a game for money) research group H2 Gambling Capital in June estimated at € 45.2 billion, giving a forecast of its growth to € 52.5 billion by 2020. The total volume of the Russian gray market of online casinos can reach € 1 billion, or about 73 billion rubles. at the rate for June, said Ivan Montik, head of SoftSwiss, developing software for online gambling.
The law on banning gambling on the whole territory of Russia, except for four specially designated zones, the State Duma adopted in 2006, all casinos closed by 2009. On the eve of closure, in 2005, the turnover of the gambling industry in Russia was estimated at $ 5-6 billion. About 60% of gambling clubs were in Moscow and St. Petersburg, industry leaders were Oleg Boyko's Ritzio Entertainment Group, Michael Bottcher's Storm International and Jackpot, the owners of which were not disclosed. In February 2010, the first casino 'Oracle' was opened in the gambling zone 'Azov-City' near Rostov-on-Don. In November 2014, a casino was opened in the gambling zone 'Siberian coin', in October 2015 - in Primorye, and in April 2016 - in the zone 'Amber'.
But most of the gaming business has moved not to these zones, but to the Internet, where geographic boundaries are conditional. In the online gambling industry, it is generally not accepted to designate the nationality of projects: any casino or software is a priori international. Large legal operators block the IP addresses of players from countries in which gambling is banned, such as Russian IP. But players can always use VPN, and gray casinos like Azino and do take blocking by themselves.
As reported by RBC in Roskomnadzor, last year more than 50 resources related to Azino777 were blocked, from the beginning of this - about 350 (more than 52 thousand sites have been blocked today). There are no special employees to combat gambling in the department, the blocking is conducted as part of the overall work. The Federal Tax Service (FTS) added that in 2017, more than 42 thousand decisions were made to block casinos and bookmakers, in 2018 - another 13.5 thousand. Of these, Azino sites had more than 30 locks in 2017 and 250 in 2018, most of the blocked pages are 'mirrors'. In the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia in 2017-2018, eight appeals of citizens about checking and blocking websites and advertising Azino777 were received, the press service of the ministry reported.
The prohibition of gambling does not prevent the holding of forums about gambling in Russia. The largest of these is the Russian Gaming Week conference. In 2017, its 'golden' sponsor was the Maltese online gambling provider Golden Race, 'silver' - Azino777. Stand of Azino or people with badges with the name of this casino nobody saw: it could and act as one of the main sponsors, and stay in the shade. At a similar conference Excellence in iGaming in Berlin last year, Azino representative was present personally. On the Facebook page of MoneyMatrix, a photo of the head of sales department of the Maltese division of Julian Goffin appeared with a young man in a red sweatshirt. The photo was signed: 'MoneyMatrix and Azino777 shake hands'. In correspondence with the magazine RBC Goffin did not deny the fact of communication with the representative of Azino, but declined to comment. MoneyMatrix did not answer the request.
In other photos from EIG-2017, the same young man walks with a bottle of beer in his hand. Unlike most participants of the conference, he did not put on a badge, and none of the interlocutors of the magazine recognized him: either the truth did not find out, or it is not customary in this industry to turn in his own-it's hard to believe that none of them knows the owners of Azino777, which in 2017 was already a very prominent participant in the market.
'Everyone says: AK, but how to raise a dough? Asino-tri-ax, the game began '- a phrase that is stuck in the minds of viewers of pirate online cinemas. 'Today I'm walking and grandmothers do not get into my pocket' - 30-year-old Victor Gostyukhin, who is also rapper AK, in the video Azino personifies the player's success, moving from the bench in the courtyard of a shabby Khrushchev to the cabin of a limousine in a company of half-naked models.
Until last year, Azino remained one of the many online casinos working for a Russian-speaking audience, much more popular were 'Volcano' or JoyCasino. By the way, they were the first to start advertising on the sites of pirate cinemas, but it was utilitarian: mostly the addresses of mirror sites were repeated. At the first stage Azino acted the same way, then changed the approach. Now the marketing task was no longer about communicating the correct address to the player, the goal was to create a viral track.
They also became a video with Vitey AK (9 million views on YouTube at the end of June). The viral clip cost only 1.5 million rubles., The interlocutor of RBC magazine from the show business industry estimated. His promotion of the casino took up through the affiliate program Azino Money - a separate portal, part of the Azino Group. In the affiliate program, site administrators are registered who plan to advertise Azino. Here they can choose banners and videos to promote the casino on their website, many chose a viral clip. In particular, when translating pirated versions of films into Russian, the partners built the Azino777 movie in the cinema.
Following the results of 2017, Azino took the 14th place in the top 20 largest advertisers by the number of views of video advertising on the Russian market, in it an illegal casino went around such companies as Yandex, Tele2 or M.Video. According to Mediascope, an average of 3,09 million people a month saw Azino's advertising last year. Azino became one of four Internet companies in the top twenty: besides it, the top included 'Yandex', Google and Mail.Ru Group. And the only company whose owners are not known.
Later the second video of Azino was shot in the same style - with the group 'Triagrutrika' and actor Vladimir Selivanov, known for the series 'Real boys' on TNT. At 'Triagrutrika' and Viti AK general producer - head of special projects of Chelyabinsk hockey club 'Tractor' Anton Petrushenko. In March, Vitya AK withdrew the video 'Hello, Ufa, with Chelyabinsk another game' in the recognizable style of advertising Azino in support of 'Tractor'.
The heyday of Azino in 2017 was connected with the sudden rise of the crypto-currency in the same year, the interlocutors of RBC magazine say. 'The money earned on crypto-currencies was invested in marketing and software. By the way, Azino was one of the first to pay the crypt, - one of them says, - programmers with rappers have joined the interest to it, because Petrushenko from the hangout [visitors of the rapper's club Basta] Gazgolder, and Basta - the famous crypt lover, even starts his exchange '.
According to market participants, now the crypto currency accepts about a third of the top-end online casinos. 'Hyp around the bitcoin collected gambling people who are hungry for easy money, and the casino is one of the ways to the goal,' notes the business director of Boss Gaming Studio, Grigory Shelest. True, so far not all players are able to handle crypto currency. In addition, payment systems do not work with it, so a significant part of the income of online casinos is received in traditional currency.
Waterfall of greetings
Collecting material for the article, the correspondent of RBC magazine was registered in Azino Money. Light minimalistic design of the portal is very different from the bright and colorful chaos of the site itself Azino777. In the 'News' section - messages from the support service and new ways of circumventing the blocking of Roskomnadzor.
To stimulate partners Azino Money publishes top 10 advertising sites for revenue per month: it totals from 7.3 million to 16 million rubles. That is, only the top ten sites earn from 70 million to 160 million rubles. per month on Azino advertising. According to software manufacturers for online casinos, usually in the top ten large sites with pirated movies and traffic are about 35 million users per month, and the average site with pirated content has traffic up to 5 million users a month and receives from advertising of the casino up to 800 thousand. rub.
Now through the search engines you can find about 100 sites that work with Azino Money. Partners receive 30% of the rates of players coming from them, that is, the monthly volume of rates of those who came through the partnership program is at least 600 million rubles. The total volume of bids is higher by at least 30-40%, as people go from social networks, learn about the casino through word of mouth and from other sources, claims the marketer of one of the online casinos. Market participants disagree in the assessment of the volume of Azino rates, calling the amount of 6 billion to 15 billion rubles. in year. There is no way to verify this data in other ways.
A couple of weeks after the registration of the correspondent of RBC in the partner program from the Azino service, a letter came with the question: 'How can we increase your activity and loyalty?' The letters to casino players are formulated in a more elaborate style: 'The waterfall of greetings, dear customer!' According to the Read Notify system , all the letters from the online casino support service come through the Yandex mail service from Moscow IP-addresses.
In advertising Azino promise to replenish the player's account for 777 rubles. The correspondent smiled luck: roulette fell on the numbers, the amount grew. But before its removal, the casino offered to replenish its account with cash, after which all the initial winnings disappeared. The support service explained that these were gift points and they are reset after a trial game. In the game, his correspondent was no longer lucky, and he hastened to withdraw the remaining money.
By law, this can not be done: on May 26, a ban on transfers related to gambling came into effect. But the money came through the service 'Yandex.Money', it follows from the message of the bank. The press service of 'Yandex.Money' referred to the fact that there is still no list of organizations, whose address prohibits transfers to gambling. You can block the transfer by MCC code - a four-digit number that indicates the specialization of the company. But banks assign MCC codes based on data that companies provide: in order to work in Russia, online casinos are represented, for example, by portals for counseling. The code for gambling is 7995, and the translation from Azino came with code 6012 (sale of certificates and advice services, as well as loans).
The Yandex.Money support service reported that Victory777 was the recipient of the transfer. This company with the license of Curacao (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, an island in the Caribbean) is listed as the owner of Azino777 on the official website of the casino.
Curaçao, Cyprus, Kiev
'The so-called Russian online casinos have no legal relationship to our country, they are registered in other jurisdictions,' says Andrei Tugarin, partner of the legal company GMT Legal.
Victory777 N.V. has received an international license for online gambling in Curaçao, but such licenses are issued by a dozen countries and territories: Malta, Gibraltar, Costa Rica, etc. 'In many countries, including Russia, these licenses are not listed, but they do not care buy. Payment systems prefer to work with online casinos with a license. Sometimes online casinos need adaptation of the offer under Russian laws. The more similar to compliance with Russian norms, the better, 'explains Maria Lepshchikova, founder of the legal company' Legal Line '.
Until 2015, Azino sites said that the casino began operating in 2010, and its owner is the Cyprus Leondra Ltd. In 2016, the wording was clarified: Leondra Ltd is part of the Azino Group, which is managed by Victory777 N.V. Other companies of the group were not mentioned. Last year, all references to Leondra Ltd disappeared from the sites of Azino.
According to the extract from the Cyprus registry of legal entities, Leondra Ltd became the 'daughter' of Victory 777 N.V. in November 2015, and before that belonged to Ukrainian citizen Alexander Plakhty. RBC magazine found only one Ukrainian close to the IT industry with this name - a graduate of the department of computer intelligent networks and systems of the Odessa National Polytechnic University (he did not respond to appeals in social networks).
Linkedin has several CVs of IT professionals with experience in Azino projects at the domain registration stage in 2013: all of them are united by the country of origin - Ukraine. They did not respond to RBC magazine's questions or refused to comment, referring to the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) signed.
Once upon a time Azino Group included several online casinos: Azino777, Azino888, Azino555, WorldAzino888. All of them indicated Victory777 N.V. management company. In 2012, on some Azino domains, a Gibraltar license was introduced. In it, six domains with variations around the word Azino were listed as 'associated brands of the Azino Group', and the recipient of the license was Entertaining Play Limited and Profitable Play Limited. Usually it looks like a white label license, when an online casino is licensed by a large company, but under its own brand.
Entertaining Play Limited and Profitable Play Limited are part of the large holding company GameSys, which is engaged in the development of software and is the operator of slots for online casinos. But the director of the GameSys unit in Gibraltar, Ken Purdy, assured RBC magazine that the license was fake. 'We never heard about Azino Group, did not cooperate with them in any form and did not know that they used information about our company,' he said, adding that he passed the information to the legal department of GameSys.
Investing in the launch of online casinos
1. Obtaining a license
€ 35-45 thousand.
launch on a sub-license (white label - work under another's license under the brand)
own license, price depends on jurisdiction
2. Creating a back office
€ 50 thousand.
creation of a management system ('engine'),
the organization of control over financial transactions,
money for circulation is paid to the account of the licensee
€ 5-25 thousand.
money for circulation is paid to the account of the licensee
Source: Boss Gaming Studio
In 2013, the administrator's rights to azino777.ru were registered. According to the extract from Whois, the domain address of the program at registration coincided with the Kiev branch of the bank 'Kievan Rus' on the street. Horeva in Kiev. In 2015, the bank was introduced by the provisional administration, and in 2016 the main shareholder Viktor Bratko was declared an international wanted list.
In the cache of 'Yandex' there is a page with contact information of the online casino Azino888 from 2014. The address indicated there is office No. 888 in BC 'Korston' in Kazan. Prior to the ban on gambling in Russia, Korston Group owned one of the largest Russian casinos Korston in Moscow and built a gaming complex in Kazan. After the ban on gambling, the group changed its profile, the Kazan complex became a hotel and a business center. In the company, RBC magazine stated that they first heard about Azino. Having called on the specified phone, the correspondent of magazine RBC has got to a dwelling apartment in the Kazan microdistrict of Azino. 'I get calls all the time: I cash out money, then what, I'm sick of it,' the interlocutor replied grimly and assured that he had nothing to do with the casino.
In 2015, the rights of the site administrator azino777.ru were registered on Victory 777 N.V. Contact details have not changed since 2013, the address [email protected] is listed as a contact of the site administrator. According to the Website Informer service, this email is registered with Cypriot lawyer Eliades and Partners lawyer Georgius Papadopoulos. Until 2016, he and the Cyprus company Myhold Holdings Limited were also administrators of the 'mirrors' of the Azino777 site. Myhold Holdings Limited - the 'daughter' of the Cyprus M.E.Nominees Ltd. Marius Iliadis, the head of Eliades and Partners. Papadopoulos said he registered companies in the interests of the client, but refused to give his name. And when it began to seem that all the searches of people and companies close to Azino are doomed to failure, a new thread appeared.
In February last year, a major manufacturer of gambling software and casino operator Novomatic appealed to the Arbitration and Mediation Center of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO, works in the UN system). He demanded that the owner of the Azino Group company Victory777 N.V. has ceased to use the Admiral brand on the domains admiral-x1.com, admiral-x2.com and other similar ones, since the casinos belonging to Novomatic operate under this brand.
The Novomatic press service told RBC magazine that Victory777 N.V. used not only the brand belonging to Novomatic, but also the IP of the company without authorization. The practice of working under other people's IP addresses from an unused range exists, says the expert on Internet blocking Philip Culin: 'There are verification and signature systems, but they are poorly implemented in the world, so they practically do not work. In this regard, it is possible to go to court, although at the international level it is difficult. '
Following Novomatic's address, WIPO sent a letter to Victory777 N.V. to the address [email protected] In a response letter to Victory777 N.V. reported that it no longer administrates Admiral domains, and information in WhoIs simply did not update. On the same day, another letter came from the same address, it is cited in the case file: 'Dear WIPO team, we have come (sic!) To the new domain owner Mark Zelochvik. He assured us that all the questionable materials were removed from the websites, and the data in WhoIs will be updated soon. If we can still help you somehow, let us know. Thank you'. Mark Zelochvik (a man with this name was unable to find the magazine RBC) in March last year became administrator of Admiral sites.
It turns out, at least until February last year, the online casino Admiral was in the management of the company Victory777 N.V., that is included in the Azino Group. On the 'mirrors' Admiral in the section 'About the project' it is still written that the direct owner of the casino was 'a well-known corporation GGS Net Ltd, whose main office is in Cyprus'. According to the extract from the Cyprus registry, GGS Net Ltd was registered in 2010 and is the 'daughter' of the offshore GGS Ltd in Anguilla. In addition, the corporation GGS Net Ltd was listed as the owner on the websites of a dozen Russian-language online casinos, such as 'Pharaoh', 'Eldorado', Green Casino, Azart Club, Poker Dom, 'Vulcan'.
To attract players to all casinos GGS Net Ltd, the Lucky Partners affiliate program operates, built according to the same principles as Azino Money described above. GGS Net Ltd through the program Lucky Partners is connected with the Ukrainian IT company Lucky Labs, whose founders are Russians Sergei Tokarev and Rustam Gilfanov.
Business for luck
RBC magazine contacted Rustam Gilfanov: he said that the company has several other founders, but refused to name their names and sizes of shares. 'Lucky Labs is an international brand, not a legal entity, there are several companies in the holding. The largest office is in Kiev, it is one of the most promising IT hubs in Europe, excellent specialists work here, you can create a large and successful team, 'he explained.
Lucky Labs was founded in early 2010, Tokarev and Gilfanov met shortly before that. Both bought shares in the company Globo Technologies, hoping that it will develop a popular 3D-shooter. The game project failed, but the partners continued to invest in the development of games and software, including gambling. According to Gilfanov, he is a lawyer by training, engaged in crisis management, bankruptcies, worked in Russian state bodies, including an investigator in the prosecutor's office.
With IT-industry Gilfans got acquainted, developing a solution for a large payment system. 'Now I am engaged in investment, the main area is IT, outsourcing, software development and support for third-party clients. To Lucky Labs projects, I have an indirect relationship: I just invested in the company as an outsourcer developer, 'he assures.
If legal online casinos usually work on software produced by international companies (Microgaming, NetEnt, Playtech, EveryMatrix or Novomatic), then gray casinos tend to use self-made software or software released by local companies. Lucky Labs positions itself as a software developer, including for gambling, but the profiles of several employees of the company in Linkedin indicate that they simultaneously worked in the program Lucky Partners. Lucky Partners site is operated by the local company of the same name.
Until last year, the commercial director of the company, Kirill Sygyd, gave commercial comments to the company on behalf of Lucky Labs. He was also the commercial director of Adwise Agency, which placed advertising banners of Lucky Partners on the sites of Kinogo, HDRezka, Zaycev, Runetki, Dojki and others. In addition, Lucky Labs regularly seeks SEO specialists - they usually do not need software.
'Lucky Labs not only provides software development services, but it also helps to form teams for clients and looks for personnel,' Gylfanov answers. - In any case, the company does not deal with gambling and does not manage the casino, only develops software. A huge ecosystem of contracts, contracts and services is working around it: this does not mean that it is all one project or that it belongs to one person. The brands that you name are with Lucky Labs in a contractual relationship. '
Maidan, SBU and separatism
One of Gilfanov's business partners is the Ukrainian businessman Maksim Polyakov, among whom are Venture Fund Noosphere Ventures, Together Networks, a start-up company for the launch of spacecraft Firefly Aerospace and the Murka gaming company. Russian businessmen received a stake in Phoenix Holdings LTD (managed by Together Networks), according to the materials of the British Virgin Islands Court.
In 2015, Tokarev and Gilfanov appealed to the court, accusing Polyakov of violating the agreements on the amount of the share transferred to him and in nonpayment of dividends. In response, as follows from court documents, Polyakov accused Gilfanov and Tokarev of separatism and cooperation with Russian invaders, and also argued that among the assets of his opponents were online casinos. The case was later transferred to a Dutch court. The representative of Polyakova declined to comment, stating that the court could consider them an attempt of pressure.
In 2014, in the Ukrainian office of Lucky Labs, searches were carried out on suspicion of links with the firm 'Forex Trend', accused of tax evasion, Ukrainian media wrote. In April 2016, the press service of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reported that it discovered a gambling online business of Russian citizens, which 'was used to finance terrorist organizations of the People's Republic of China and the People's Republic of Germany.' SBU said that it seized computers 'with evidence of illegal financial transactions aimed at financing terrorism,' and found that 'super-profits from gambling were being diverted to offshore companies and to accounts in the Russian Federation.' Representatives of Lucky Labs confirmed to the Ukrainian media the fact of searches and threatened the SBU with counterclaims.
However, after searches and serious charges Lucky Labs continued to work. According to Gilfanov, none of the cases brought after the searches progressed beyond the stage of excitation: 'We suspect that corruption was used as an instrument of pressure in a corporate conflict. We filed to the courts, law enforcement officers eventually closed the case. '
Ukrainian media also linked searches in Lucky Labs with a corporate conflict and assumed that its cause was the political disagreement of business partners. 'Representatives of the Ukrainian business in the IT sphere, for the most part, supported the Maidan, while Tokarev and Gilfanov fined employees who violated the labor discipline by absenteeism at unauthorized rallies,' the Kiev edition of Politeka wrote.
In 2015, Sergei Tokarev, Rustam Gilfanov and his brother Roman Gilfanov were sanctioned by the Ukrainian government, which implied the seizure of assets, the banning of trade operations and other restrictions. Each year they were prolonged for another year. And this year the sanctions against the Gilfanov brothers were lifted: the new decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, which came into effect by the decree of the president on May 14 this year, extended sanctions only for Sergei Tokarev, but for three years.
According to Rustam Gilfanov, the decision found that another person is included in the sanctions list. To the remark about the coincidence of the date of birth of the 'other person' and other details, he suggested that this is the 'mistake of the NSDC clerks'.
'Locks do not work'
In April, the press service of the National Police of Ukraine reported that the Department of Cyber Police discovered 'eight online casinos created by Russian citizens on the territory of Ukraine.' Among them were participants of Lucky Partners: 'Pharaoh', 'Eldorado', 'Vulcan' and Green Casino. Operatives found that the Russians organized the operation of the online casino in 2010-2012 in the territory of the Russian Federation, then 'fled to Ukraine in connection with the persecution by the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation' and in 2013 they organized a similar business there.
In the Kiev office, operatives found almost 80 people: IT specialists, online game developers, web designers, administrators of gaming web resources, online support specialists, call center employees, accountants. This time the accusations were even higher: the press service of the police said that during the 15 searches, not only computers and mobile phones were seized from the criminal group, but also weapons, ammunition, drugs and cash in foreign currency. Whose office was it, the police report does not say. On the clarifying questions of the magazine RBC in the press service of the police did not answer. But Ukrainian online publications (Pravda.TV, lviv-news and others) again pointed to Lucky Labs and quoted Gilfanov: 'We have long been accustomed to pressure on our business in Ukraine, on April 10, we were visited by representatives of cyberpolicy.'
In May, the same media reported that the Ukrainian film 'Militia', which is due out in August, was withdrawn for money by Sergei Tokarev and Rustam Gilfanov. 'The scenario demonstrates the real state of affairs, the feelings of the population of Donbass, who took arms in their own hands, not as mercenaries, but as people's militiamen,' the film describes. 'Our mission was to help the soldiers of Donbass to be heard,' - quoted in the same place, Sergei Tokarev.
The journal of RBC Gilfanov said that neither he nor Tokarev spoke with these publications and did not say anything like that: 'We have nothing to do with this film, if it exists at all.' He calls himself and his business partner 'absolutely apolitical people, like the vast majority of Internet businessmen who stand for reconciliation and settlement of all conflicts, peace in Europe and the planet as a whole and for economic development.'
But even after all these accusations, the Kiev office of Lucky Labs continues to work. The online casino Admiral also did not stop working and did not even change the logo: its logo uses the logo of the ground-based Admiral casino with Novomatic's signature, although this case was cited in the WIPO report as a successful resolution of the dispute. The contact address for 'mirrors' Admiral remains the same address - [email protected], which is used for the registration of Azino777 domains and owned by Cypriot lawyer Georgius Papadopoulos, who registered offshore for the Azino Group.
The work of a chaotic network of hundreds of 'mirrors' of online casinos can not be stopped or tracked, states Rustam Gilfanov, who stubbornly denies communication with the Azino Group: 'Locks do not work. If the Internet company has a desire to serve users, the technical capability will always be found. '
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