When 1,170 players made their way to Sochi, Russia to play in the partypoker Live Sochi Million, standing off on the side of the room was Artur Voskanyan – the person most responsible for making sure the record-breaking event went off without a hitch.
Voskanyan is the CEO and owner of Poker Club Management, the Russian-based company spearheading the rapid growth of live poker in Russia. How he came be one of the most important people on the Russian poker scene started years ago, when he was a student.
“I met one girl who described to me her perfect life; to be a casino dealer and have her freedom so she could study during the day and work at night,” said Voskanyan. “In 1998 I started as a poker dealer, then became floor manager, general manager and in 2006 I opened my own company, Poker Club Management.”
His company is now in charge of a number of poker clubs in Russia – including the one inside Sochi and Casino Resort, the host of the partypoker Live Event.
“Poker in Russia has been in a blocked position for the last six years, but now we have a new wave here in Russia because of new casinos opening in the official gambling zones,” said Voskanyan. “Now we have one casino in Sochi, Kalainingrad, Altai, and Vladivostok, and Poker Club Management is now working with three of them.”
The gambling zones that Voskanyan refers to were created by the Russian government in 2016 and revitalized the Russian poker market. While most of Europe has been building and developing their poker market while Russia was without legal gambling, Voskanyan believes the country will soon be the home of a boom of their own.
“It is difficult to compare (to Europe). We have different culture and different way of development,” said Voskanyan. “We have no common European market, every country has its own way of developing in poker. Online in Russia difficult because it is in a gray market, but still possible to play.”
With a population of 143.5 in Russia alone, the sheer number of people playing poker, even recreationally, might already be the tops in Europe, if not the world.
“The Russian poker market is probably one of the best in the world. But don’t tell anybody this – it’s a secret,” joked Voskanyan. “We have a huge number of players and even much more potential. The biggest wave will be when online poker is legalized in Russia – hopefully in the next two years.”
That could lead to even further growth of the Russian poker market, and something that Voskanyan is already building towards.
“We are doing many tournament in many different countries, mostly for Russian-speaking players,” said Voskanyan. “We’re opening more clubs in Russia and hope to have more than 30 clubs under our name soon.”
The overwhelming success of the $1,100 buy-in event in Sochi has allowed partypoker to move forward with bigger and better offerings for the Russian poker scene. Just days after the Sochi event wrapped up, the company announced that they would be heading back in September, with bigger and better plans. The event, scheduled for September 1-11, is a $5,000 US buy-in with a $5 million guaranteed prizepool – $1 million of which goes to the winner.