10 casinos that RULED Moscow

Vitaly Arutyunov/Sputnik
After the fall of the USSR, wild capitalism brought previously forbidden pleasures to the capital of newly independent Russia. Casinos popped up like mushrooms after the rain and quickly attracted people of wealth and power.

1. Metelitsa

This casino opened on New Arbat Street in June 1993 and quickly became the most iconic gambling and entertainment establishment in the Russian capital

At the time of its opening, the Metelitsa club — and the Cherry Casino that the club hosted — lacked the chic and only gradually acquired it by the end of the 1990s.

It looked rather gloomy at the beginning.

Later, it became one of the most flashy and spectacular places in the city. 

The stage at the Metelitsa became a holy grail for aspiring and established pop artists all over Russia, as staging a show there often brought them fame and money, as the Metelitsa’s guests were mostly well-connected people who squandered their fortunes without a second thought.

“Metelitsa was very famous. It helped [many people] to make useful connections in Moscow. All pop stars that you see today […] have passed through the Metelitsa. They called me directly and asked if they could perform there, [because] there was real money, a huge number of people, from 600 to 700 gathered inside every evening,” said ex-cofounder of the casino David Yakobashvili.

Natalia Petrovskaya at a beauty pageant in Metelitsa, 1994.

Nonetheless, the history of the casino has been marked with plenty of scandals, too. One day in June 1994, the casino was raided by a special police force and later guests recalled that the officers left the casino with the cash they had confiscated after they had searched the guests.

When the iconic place was closed, tourists gathered at its doors for the last chance to take photographs in front of the casino Russians of the 1990s admired the most.

2. Beverly Hills

In August 1993, a new casino opened in one of the 7 Stalin skyscrapers in Moscow. It was called ‘The Firebird’, but only three years later, in 1996, The Firebird ceased to exist and was replaced by a newly opened casino named ‘Beverly Hills’.

The opening party was lavish and the list of attendees was impressive. Donald Trump, Las Vegas Mayor Jan Laverty Jones and movie star Chuck Norris, who reportedly owned a 50% share in the casino, all attended the grand opening.

Chuck Norris in Moscow.

Contemporaries remembered the Beverly Hills casino as one of the most criminalized and dangerous gambling venues in town.

August 27, 1997. An erotic dance at the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest show finals in Beverly Hills club.

“The Beverly Hills casino owned by Chuck Norris is said to be a very thuggish place. And this, of course, is true. I mean, I don’t know for sure if those who come to the establishment of their favorite Texas Ranger are indeed thugs, but they do look exactly like most of the soulless oppressors of the Indians that Chuck Norris kicks in the face in every episode of his show,” wrote a journalist in 1998 about the casino.

3. Golden Palace

The Golden Palace casino opened in 1994 in an area close to the Belorussky Railway Station. Just like Metelitsa, this casino also attracted pop artists and gamblers of the capital. One of them got lucky in 1996 and won $240,000, which was an absolute record in Moscow at the time. 

The Golden Palace casino in 1998.

Yet, the history of the Golden Palace was scattered with scandals. In December 1996, co-founder and owner of the casino David Khachatrov was gunned down next to his house by a hitman. In 2006, the authorities discovered certain violations in the work of the casino and stopped all activity inside. Although the Golden Palace opened again soon after, it was permanently closed in June 2009, when gambling was outlawed in Russia everywhere, except for a few special zones. 

Today, passers-by can still notice the Golden Palace signboard in the area. The casino, however, is no longer there. It has been transformed into an entertainment club. 

4. Shangri-La

British citizen Michael Boettcher founded gambling business operator Storm International in 1992 and came to the emerging Russian gambling market later in the 1990s. One of his casinos — Shangri-La — opened in 1999. It was an elitist establishment that charged an entry fee of $200 per person. 

Only a certain kind of Russian people could afford such an astonishing entrance fee. However, leaders of the Russian criminal underworld could. Once, a member of one organized criminal group named Vyacheslav Kazarin lost money playing against members of a different crime syndicate. Unwilling to pay the debt, Kazarin invited them to his apartment and killed the unsuspecting victors.

Today, cafes and a theater have replaced the casino which was closed in the summer of 2009.

5. Jazz Town

Just like Shangri-La, this casino belonged to Michael Boettcher’s Storm International, but unlike the former, it opened only in 2004. The casino aspired to become the main jazz venue in Moscow, but it was closed in 2009, along with all the other gambling rooms.

6. Crystal

At the time of its opening in 1997, the Crystal casino was the largest gambling venue in Eastern Europe. 

“There are different categories of players. The first group consists of professionals... For such people it is enough to win $200-300 a day. The second group includes so-called ‘big players’, who bet at least $10 thousand during a game. The third group consists of cheaters and police is after them,” said one of the dealers who worked at the casino.

In March 1999, police detained infamous thief-in-lawShakro the Young after he had gambled and allegedly used drugs in the casino.

The authorities suspected that the Georgian mafia controlled the casino and the venue was raided and temporality closed in 2006, before it was completely shut down in 2009. 

7. Empire

The Empire casino opened in 2001 and was operated by an American company. Women were admitted for free and men were charged a $50 entry fee.

The main feature of the casino was its signature striptease shows dubbed ‘Imperial Evenings’. Essentially, it was a striptease show, themed according to the aesthetics of all the world empires that have ever existed.

8. Cosmos

The Cosmos casino operated on the first floor of the famous Cosmos Hotel next to the VDNKh park. Many times, the casino became the object of interest to Russian law enforcement: either because it was suspected in money laundering, providing a meeting venue for criminal bosses, or operating without licenses.

Musician Andrei Makarevich in the Cosmos casino.

9. Crown

The Crown casino was also located on New Arbat Street that had already been a popular place among gamblers of Moscow because of the Metelitsa casino.

The Crown had a poker club and a gambling area and was considered a more democratic place, compared to the very expensive clubs of the capital.

10. Metropol

The Metropol Hotel in central Moscow.

This was the closest casino to the Red Square, as it was located in the iconic Metropol Hotel. In 2006, the casino raffled 20 kilos of gold among its VIP guests.

A hall for VIP guests in the Metropol casino.

Later, one of its guests hit a $2 million jackpot, a prize that dwarfed the previous record set by the Golden Palace casino in 1996.

Click here to see a currently operating casino in Sochi and 9 other striking sites on the Russian Riviera.

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