Many people have wondered about the secret of the success of the online casino Azino777. And indeed: it is officially banned by Roskomnadzor, and its servers are regularly blocked by the relevant services. But that doesn’t stop Azino777 from earning between 6 billion and 15 billion rubles annually! It’s time to understand how the domestic gambling industry works and who is behind the most profitable online casinos.
It’s lively in Khimki near Moscow: the wind is spinning fake bills around the Country Park business center, and rapper Guf is posing in a pink coat for a backstage shoot to the rhythmic beat. This is the end of the recording of the new promotional video for Azino777, which will soon appear on all known and unknown streaming sites. The quality filmed and edited video is so different from the usual pirate cinema commercials – it’s noticeable that Azino777 didn’t skimp on the video.
But no matter how much the rapper praises “Azino three toppers”, no matter how much he persuades to bet on everything – it doesn’t change the fact that online gambling clubs, including Azino777, are banned in Russia. Their organization is punishable by imprisonment for up to six years, as well as a fine of up to 1 million rubles. Advertising casinos is also punishable – you can get a fine of up to 500,000 rubles. However, all this does not prevent the owners of gambling clubs deftly circumvent the laws: advertising is placed in offshore zones, hundreds of mirrors are registered, and gambling business gets international licenses.
According to a study by H2 Gambling Capital, in June this year, the profit from gambling in the global market was €45.2 billion. By 2022, this amount will grow to €52.5 billion. According to SoftSwiss CEO Ivan Montik, the domestic gray market of online gambling clubs reaches about €1 billion – recalculated at the exchange rate it is 73 billion rubles. SoftSwiss itself is engaged in the development of software for gambling slots, so Ivan Montik knows what he is talking about.
The law banning gambling was adopted by the State Duma back in 2006. Only four special zones were not affected by this decision, and the rest of the gambling establishments were banned. On the eve of the Duma decision in 2005, the total turnover of the gambling industry was estimated at $ 5-6 billion. More than half of the gambling establishments were based in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the leaders of the gambling industry at that time were the anonymous owners of Jackpot, Oleg Boiko and his “Ritzio Entertainment Group” and “Storm International” Michael Bottcher.
And let in 2010 in the special gaming zone near Rostov-on-Don the first land-based casino “Oracle” opened, let in 2014 there was a casino in another special zone “Siberian Coin”, in 2015 – an establishment opened in Primorye, and in 2016 – in the zone “Amber”. All this turned out to be insignificant, because the bulk of gambling players did not want to accept the conditions of the state and build up in those very special zones – they moved their business to the Internet.
The Internet has no borders, and in online gambling is not customary to bind to any country – any organization and any software gives itself the status of international. Large legal operators are purposefully blocking IP-addresses of the countries where gambling is prohibited, for example, Russian IP-addresses. However, nothing can prevent players and casinos from using VPN services, which will change your native IP to any other. Some of the gambling clubs, and even take care of IP-addresses for themselves: for example, the casino provides bypass blocking at the automatic level, so users do not make unnecessary gestures and immediately proceed to the game.
According to Roskomnadzor reports, last year more than 50 gambling sites have been blocked at casino, since the beginning of this year – another 350, and in total at least 52,000 portals have been blocked! There is no special department or staff to combat online gambling clubs, so the search and blocking of resources takes place as part of the general work of the agency. The Russian Federal Tax Service reported that in 2017 they blocked 42,000 gambling resources and betting sites, and in 2018 – another 13,500 sites. Plus, the Russian Interior Ministry has accepted eight requests to block sites advertising Azino over the past two years.
The most interesting thing is that the ban on online gambling does not prevent thematic forums in Russia at all. The largest and most significant of them is “Russian Gaming Week”, where the main sponsor in 2017 was the provider “Golden Race” from Malta, and the second after it – Azino777. At the same time there was no Azino stand or representatives with identifying badges – Azino777 managed to be one of the main sponsors, and at the same time “not to show off”.
However, a representative of the famous casino was present at a similar conference in Berlin. He was photographed on the MoneyMatrix Facebook page. The picture shows Julian Goffin, MoneyMatrix’s head of sales, and some guy in a red hoodie. The caption of the photo is suggestive, saying “MoneyMatrix” and Azino777 exchanged a firm handshake. Goffin himself did not deny the meeting, but refused to comment.
Other pictures from EIG-2017 show the same young man, who calmly strolls in the crowd with a bottle of beer. He still has no badge, and no one recognizes him. Of course, it’s hard to believe that no one at the conference knows the representative of Azino777, already a prominent player in the gambling market at that time. Maybe in this business it’s not customary to give up one’s own, or maybe Azino cares so much about its disguise to stay in the shadows as long as possible?
By now, any user of pirate movie theaters knows the hit song from Azino’s promotional video, the same one where Vitya AK-47 tells you “how to raise dough” and directs adventurers to “Azino Three Axes.” The viral clip and catchy upbeat track could appear in the most unexpected place of a movie or TV series together with the accompanying text to the new mirror of Azino. Such an advertising move brought Azino777 incredible popularity, and by the end of 2017 almost everyone knew about it: gamblers and disinterested citizens alike.
Before the appearance of the sensational advertisement, Azino was just one of the many existing online casinos at the time, considerably inferior to Vulkan or JoyCasino. Ironically, these very titans of online gambling began to place ads in pirate cinemas first, only the ads themselves were a regular text from the series “new casino address” or “go to such-and-such site for winning bets”. Of course, this can’t be compared with the viral video of Azino, where a quite famous rapper reads the lyrics vigorously. The goal of Azino was to create an ad with a scope and catchiness that would outshine the efforts of potential competitors.
The promotion of the video took place through Azino Money, one of the portals belonging to Azino Group. Azino Money itself is an affiliate program, where the administrator of any site where it is planned to advertise Azino777 could take part. With Azino Money, you could choose your own ads, banners, and whatever you wanted. Naturally, the administrators opted for the clip with AK-47: a cheerful and upbeat track, the clip looks quite presentable. It was inserted into films and other video content of pirate cinemas with amateur translation.
And if we turn to the results of 2017, we can find that Azino777 was on the 14th place in the top twenty largest advertisers by the number of views of commercials in the Russian segment of the market. Moreover, the illegal gambling club beat such titans as Yandex, Tele2 and M.Video in this competition. Based on the Mediascope data, we can see that on the average 3.09 million people per month watch Azino’s ads, which earned Azino777 a place of honor among the four giants of online advertising, including Yandex, Google and Mail.Ru Group. And what else sets Azino apart from other successful Internet companies is that its owners have chosen to remain incognito.
The music video and motif for Azino by AK-47 became so popular that an almost identical beat was used by Vitya for another music video in support of the hockey club Traktor. Anton Petrushenko, the owner of “Traktor” club, is also the producer of Vitya and “Triagrutrika” band, which starred in the next video for “Azino777”. Business is business, and now Anton Petrushenko launches a new commercial for Azino777, where “Triagrutrika” and Viktor Selivanov (the hero from the “Real Fighters” series) cheerfully advertise the game at Azino777. The new track turned out to be no less viral – Azino keeps its mark.
Remember that the cryptocurrency boom in Russia happened just in 2017. All the money earned from cryptocurrencies began to actively invest in marketing and a variety of software. Azino777 took advantage of this, giving its users the opportunity to conduct money transactions through cryptocurrency. Perhaps not the least role in this decision was played by producer Anton Petrushenko: he is an active member of the rap group “Gazgolder”, the founder of which is rapper Basta. Basta himself has long looked into the cryptocurrency business and has even begun to prepare for the launch of his own exchange.
Today, about a third of the top online casinos accept cryptocurrency as payment for gambling on their portals. Casino has set a new direction in dealing with the financial issues of gambling clubs, becoming the first to take advantage of all the possibilities of cryptocurrency. Of course, not all players know how to handle this new financial unit, so most of the profits Azino777 and other casinos receive in the format of traditional money.
In order to understand at least approximately how the advertising campaign of Azino works, it’s worth trying to look at it from the inside. It’s easy to sign up for the Azino Money Affiliate Program, just like any other website. The eye is immediately struck by the contrast of design: Azino Money’s interface is decorated in simple light colors, which is so strikingly different from the acid colors of the online casino. In the newsfeed, tips on how to bypass blocking from Roskomnadzor and brief messages from tech support pop up.
Stimulation of partners’ activity is the most banal way: Azino Money displays the top 10 sites for advertising with the calculation of their monthly profit from 7.3 million to 16 million rubles. Thus, in total, all partners of this top ten partners earn from 70 to 160 million rubles monthly for advertising Azino. As a rule, in this very first ten are the owners of pirate cinemas with a multi-million traffic of users. The average site can expect to make up to 800,000 rubles in profits from the casino.
If you use the search, it’s possible to find not less than a hundred sites, using affiliate program Azino Money in two accounts. According to Azino Money promises, their partners get 30% of all bets made by the players they introduce. If we calculate it, we get the impressive amount of 600 million rubles, that’s how much money is circulating in the environment of Azino’s partners only. And considering the fact that people come to online casinos not only from partner sites, but also through mailing lists, social networks and word of mouth, it is simply impossible to calculate all the money. Market players give different figures for the volume of bets Azino777: the figure ranges from 6 to 15 billion rubles per year.
A couple of weeks later we receive a letter from Azino Money’s administration, asking us how they can increase our loyalty and activity. The letter itself is drafted in a business style, unlike the mailing letters addressed to the direct players. There, Azino writes pretentiously, almost artistically, to make the gamblers feel like the most exceptional customers. The letters from Azino go through Yandex’s mail servers, but Yandex itself can’t fight this in any way.
Going back to encouraging direct players, Azino offers to top up their account with 777 rubles. If you try to win back this money, you’ll always be lucky: the roulette or slots will give out winnings without any difficulty. But once you start betting with their own money, as Fortune would be inexorable – big prizes you can not see. Naturally, in such circumstances, gambler would want to withdraw their hard-earned money to get them back and not lose in a hurry.
However, it will not be easy to withdraw money: since May 26, there is an official ban on transactions, which are somehow associated with gambling. But whatever bans would have been introduced, the money is still miraculously returned to the owner through the services of Yandex, namely Yandex.Money. Yandex explains this by the fact that they simply do not have a list of organizations that fall under the category of “gambling clubs”. And the casinos themselves are not innocent: they register their own organizations under the guise of a loan or consulting companies.
Yandex support service reported that in all cases, the recipient and sender of the remittances was the company “Victory777”, which has a license Curacao and is the official owner-representative of Casino777. Curacao is an island in the Caribbean Sea, belonging to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, where the gaming business can count on more flexible conditions than in Russia. This is used by all online gambling clubs, which thus do not violate international laws.
Partner of the legal company “GMT Legal” Andrey Tugarin explains that legally, all the casinos registered this way have nothing to do with Russia. The aforementioned “Victory777 N.V.” was licensed in Curacao, exactly the same international licenses can be obtained not only there: Malta, Costa Rica, Gibraltar and other countries provide casino license. And even if in Russia such licenses are not quoted, they are still bought, because the transfer payment systems are more willing to cooperate with companies that have at least some kind of permission to conduct their activities.
Up until 2015, all the websites of Azino777 said that the institution had been operating since 2010, and its owner is listed as the Cyprus company Leondra Ltd. In 2016 things changed: now Leondra Ltd is a subsidiary of Azino Group, which is managed by Victory777 N.V. If you check the statements of legal entities, until 2015 Leondra Ltd belonged to the Ukrainian Alexander Plakhtiy. However, attempts to find a Ukrainian with this last name, close to the IT industry, were limited to finding only one person – a graduate of the Odessa National Polytechnic University. This Alexander Plakhtin is a graduate of the department of computer intelligent networks and systems, but whether he is the owner of Leondra Ltd or not is unknown.
But these are not the only ways leading to Ukraine: on Linkedin exchange several resumes of IT-specialists with work experience in Azino777 were found. All of them were Ukrainian citizens. These people refused to comment, referring to the signed non-disclosure agreement.
To recap, at one time the Azino Group included several related companies: Azino555, Azino777, Azino888, WorldAzino888. Each of these organizations mentioned Victory777 N.V. as their management company. But in 2012, some of Azino’s domains were already referring to a Gibraltar license, under which they were operating under a “white label” scheme, where an organization operates under someone else’s license, but with its own brand. The foreign license was allegedly granted by Entertaining Play Limited and Profitable Play Limited. However, Ken Purdy, director of GameSys, which is a large holding company that includes both Play Limited and Profitable Play Limited, said that he had never heard of the Azino Group, and certainly had not cooperated with Azino in any form.
The rights for the administrator of azino777.ru were registered in 2013. The Whois statement showed that the address of the domain coincided with the Kyivska Rus bank branch on Khoreva street in Kyiv. Two years later, temporary administration was introduced in this bank, and in 2016 the main shareholder Viktor Bratko was declared wanted, and internationally.
Azino888 had a contact address in a cache from 2014, which led to the Korston Business Center in Kazan. Before the ban on gambling entertainment, Korston owned one of the largest casinos in Moscow, but after the decree on the illegality of gambling clubs, Korston was reclassified as a business center, and the buildings were given to hotels. Representatives of Korston, in response to all questions about the casino, said that this is the first time they’ve heard of this online casino. The phone number was also listed in the contacts of Azino888, but after calling it, you can only find an apartment in a Kazan micro area of Azino, where irritated tenants know nothing about any casino.
In 2015 the contacts of the site azino777.ru included the e-mail address email@example.com, which was supposedly a link to the administrator of the resource. However, a Website Informer email check revealed that the email belonged to a lawyer of the “Eliades and Partners” law firm in Cyprus – Georgius Papadopoulos. At the end of the proceedings it turned out that Georgius and another Cypriot company Myhold Holdings Limited were the administrators of the sites-mirrors of Azino777. Georgius himself explained that he provided his services in the interests of the client. He refused to give the client’s name.
It would seem that it is simply impossible to trace the origins of Azino777, but in 2017 the appeal of the famous game software developer Novomatic to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) surfaced. A representative of Novomatic demanded that Victory777 N.V. stop using the Admiral casino brand, which is the property of Novomatic. But Azino777 allowed themselves to use more than just the brand: they used Admiral’s servers, including the company’s IP address, without permission.
The answer to the appeal to WIPO was a letter from Victory777 N.V., which said that the administration of the domains is no longer in their hands, and that all questions about this can be solved with the Admiral administrator Mark Zelowczyk. Thus, it comes out that Admiral casino until February 2017 was managed by “Victory777 N.V.” and was part of the same Azino Group. Admiral mirrors report that the owner of the “used” casino was the Cyprus company GGS Net Ltd, which is the owner of several gambling clubs known in the expanses of Runet: “Vulkan”, “Pharaoh”, Poker Dom, Green Casino, Azart Club, “Eldorado”.
Attracting players from GGS Net Ltd. was on the principle of Azino Money, only their affiliate program was called Lucky Partners. As it turned out, Lucky Partners itself is connected with the Ukrainian IT-company Lucky Labs, founded by Russian citizens Rustam Gilfanov and Sergey Tokarev.
Rustam Gilfanov himself stated that Lucky Labs has several other controlled companies and founders, and that Lucky Labs is an international brand. In this case, according to Gilfanov, Lucky Labs is one of the most promising IT-hubs in Europe, and the disclosure of the names of co-founders and shareholders is out of the question.
Gilfanov and Tokarev initially invested in Lucky Labs with the idea of creating a successful 3D shooter. The idea of creating a computer game failed, but that did not stop Gilfanov and Toeprev from continuing to invest in the development of game software, including online slots. Speaking about himself, Gilfanov noted that he is a lawyer with higher education, having worked in the prosecutor’s office and engaged in crisis management. However, Gilfanov got acquainted with the IT sphere when he was developing solutions for a certain payment system.
The businessman assures that he has only an indirect relation to Lucky Labs – an investment in outsourced development and nothing more. This is a rather convenient position, given that the largest casinos buy software from well-known gaming developers, while small resources use shadow slots or products not particularly well-known companies. Lucky Labs has repeatedly positioned itself as a developer of gaming software, only they have not been classified as a successful gaming company.
In 2017, comments on the activities of Lucky Labs were not given by Gilfanov – it was the commercial director of Lucky Labs, Kirill Sygyda. This man is also the commercial director of Adwise Agency – this company is responsible for placing commercials on the largest pirate movie theaters and music communities (Kinogo, HDRezka, Zaycev). At the same time, Lucky Labs is permanently interested in finding good SEO-specialists, which have nothing to do with game software development.
Commenting on the situation, Gilfanov firmly stated that Lucky Labs has nothing to do with gambling and online casino management. In other words, Gilfanov is trying to convince the public that Lucky Labs only develops software and nothing more. All brands that can be somehow attributed to Lucky Labs are in a contractual relationship with the company, which means that Lucky Labs is not responsible for their actions.
Ukrainian businessman Maxim Polyakov, who is the owner of Together Networks, an entertainment holding company, is one of Gilfanov’s business partners. Russian businessmen Gilfanov and Sergey Tokarev received their share in Phoenix Holdings LTD, which is part of Together Networks, and then went to court, accusing Polyakov of violating the agreements between them and not paying dividends. Polyakov responded by accusing the two businessmen of separatism and withholding assets from the online casino. All charges were forwarded to a Dutch court without any comments from the defendant.
After that, in 2014, searches were conducted in the Ukrainian office of Lucky Labs in connection with cooperation with “Forex Trend”, which evaded taxes. In the spring of 2016, the SBU reported that they had discovered an online gambling business of Russian citizens, the proceeds of which were used to sponsor separatist organizations in the DNR and LNR. All Lucky Labs computers, according to the SBU statement, were seized to confirm the evidence of illegal financial support to the DNR and LNR. In response, Lucky Labs threatened the SBU with retaliatory lawsuits.
But no matter how many searches were conducted, no matter how many accusations were made, Lucky Labs continued its work. The media speculated that the activity of the security services was also due to the fact that during the Maidan many corporate employees left work for rallies, which was not prevented in any way by their superiors. While Tokarev and Gilfanov did not encourage their own employees to participate in the Maidan. Already in 2015, Sergei Tokarev, Rustam Gilfanov, and his brother Roman Gilfanov were sanctioned by the Ukrainian government, which involved the seizure of assets and various prohibitions, including a ban on trade transactions. That same year, the sanctions were lifted from the Gilfanovs and remained in effect for Tokarev, and then only for three years.
Rustam Gilfanov explains everything that happened by a simple mistake of the clerks of the National Security and Defense Council.
In April of the same year, the press service of the NBU reported that cyber police found eight online gambling clubs, some of which were members of Lucky Partners. The operational service found that Russian citizens organized online gambling business in Russia, but after the sanctions against online casino gambling imposed by Russian legislation, were forced to move to Ukraine to organize a similar business there in 2013.
During an operational check of the office, about eighty employees were found: IT specialists, game developers, web designers, administrators, call center managers, tech support, etc. After this inspection, new charges were pressed against the owners of the office and the search results not only showed up their computers but also cell phones, weapons, drugs and foreign currency cash. The names of the office owners and the name of the office were not made public. However, this did not prevent Ukrainian publishers from again pointing to Lucky Labs and quoting Gilfanov about the pressure on his business and cyberpolice visits.
The media did not stop there: in May, they reported on Gilfanov and Tokarev’s sponsorship of the film “Militia,” which tells the story of the actions of the LNR and DNR. Gilfanov himself responded that he and his company were apolitical and that he had nothing to do with sponsoring this film. Moreover, he questions the existence of the film as such. Although the film quotes Tokarev as saying that the people of Donbass should be heard. How things actually happened is still unknown.
The most interesting thing is that even after all these accusations and searches, the Kiev office of Lucky Labs continues to function. Admiral casino is still functioning, but the contact mail for all Admiral mirrors is still the same address, owned by George Papadopoulos, who used to register offshore sites for Azino Group. And the same address was used to register domains of Azino777.
Even though Rustam Gilfanov stubbornly denies his connection with Azino Group, even he says that it is simply impossible to block anything on the Internet. After all, if an Internet company wants to provide its services to users, there will always be ways to do it, both technical and legal.
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