First of all I dealt with gambling business in 1989 still in USSR. I was 14 years old and my mother worked in one of the largest foreign tourist system of hotels in St. Petersburg. At that time its name was Leningrad. «Foreign tourist» is a state organization of USSR period of time. It dealt with inviting tourists from foreign countries and organizing the cultural program in USSR. So once on a cloudy autumn day I went to my mother`s work in order to help her carry the bag with products to home. The matter is that in 1989 it was practically impossible to find high-quality products in the soviet shops. And in the hotel there worked a line that made tasty cakes and pies. The workers of the hotel could take these products. Generally speaking it was not allowed for the workers` relatives to visit their work but my mother had a rather high post in the hotel and that`s why I was allowed to enter the hotel secretly.
So once I saw these slot machines. they were located at the corner of the hall. There were just 10-20 of them but they made a great impression on the person who was used to soviet attractions. The majority of the slots were of the so called fruit slots series. In other words they had three drums with the pictures of cherries, lemons, bells, bar and 7. Besides there were slot machines for playing video poker. I have managed to note that before every distribution on the blue monitor screen the following words appeared «Good Luck».
There was also one interesting slot machine. I don`t remember its name but it had a pirate topic something like Billy Bons Treasures. Behind the glass cupola on a small platform that presented itself a pirate island there were playing tokens. On the one side of the platform there was a hole and the platform swung itself. When the gambler threw the token into the hole it fell down on the platform to the rest tokens and the platform began swinging faster for a time. Sometimes as a result of this swinging several tokens at a time could fell from the platform into the hall. And then they could be received by the gambler as a winning.
This mini-hall of slot machines differed to a great extend from the slots that appeared in the USSR several years later. The first difference were slot machines themselves that were absolutely but not used. In front of every slot machine there was a comfortable arm-chair. There also was an ashtray and a special plastic glass for keeping and collecting of tokens. People played only for tokens. Close to the slot machines there was a bar where the barmen changed tokens for coffee and alcoholic drinks.
By the way talking about coffee it is necessary to mention that at that time the only thing you could find in Leningrad shops were tins with a note «instant coffee» with a price of 6 rubles. It differed from the real coffee very much. In the foreign tourist slot machines` hall there was real coffee. It was freshly milled and freshly cooked. The smell of this coffee, import cigarettes and whisky created the atmosphere of real western life. It is also necessary to say about stuff. It consisted of the barmen, cashier and manager. All of them wore shirts with ties. The games were only for currency – Finnish and German marks, American dollars and English pounds. Soviet rubles as well as soviet people were out of this western island life. Certainly I was able to look at the inner world of this soviet slot machines hall just for 2 or 3 minutes when my mother stayed talking with manager about some working issues. However the things that I have seen were so different from the soviet reality that it stayed in my memory forever.
Slot machines were not the only entertainment for gambling foreigners who came to USSR. After a several months my mother brought me a pack of plastic playing cards «Frontier». For those readers who didn`t have an opportunity to get acquainted with the USSR I`d like to make a small explanation of it. At those times foreign plastic playing cards were in great deficit. Especially such cards as Spanish «Frontier». Sailors from market ships brought a small amount of them to the Soviet Union. And the price for such playing cards was rather high on the black market.
My mother told me that a real casino where people played for money was opened in the hotel. After every shift the cards were destroyed. The pack of playing cards brought by my mother had been secretly saved by one of the casino workers (he was my mother`s acquaintance) for the mother. If the principal of working of slot machines was clear. In other words it was clear how casino earn money on slot machines. However it wasn`t clear how the casino work was built. Together with a pack of playing cards my mother brought home an advertising prospect of this unusual establishment. I kept it for several years but unfortunately I don`t remember where I have put it. The prospect was written on two languages: English and German. According to it the games in this new soviet casino were for USA dollars. The gamblers had the right to choose any of two games – French roulette and Blackjack.
The rules of black jack were quite standard, 3:2, insurance, split of the same cards, double at 9,10 and 11 points at the first two cards. The size of the stake at black jack was $10-$100. At that time it was fantastic money. At that time one dollar cost 10 rubles at the black market. And the average soviet salaries were 180-350 rubles. I don`t exactly remember the stakes at the roulette. The advertising booklet contained also rules of visiting the casino. According to them the casino worked daily from 21pm till 05am. If you want to visit the casino it was necessary to have a business dress code and to show your passport at the entrance which cost $5. As far as I understood the last two measures were accepted in order to deprive the soviet community of the possibility to visit the casino. It was recommended for the gamblers to leave tip to the staff if they wanted. The recommended size of tip was 135 of the wining.
Later with the breakup of USSR the rules of casino visiting changed as well. At the entrance the entrance fee and checking of passports was cancelled. Everyone could visit the casino if he or she has money. Tokens could easily be bought for rubles and casino converted into one of the majority of gambling houses that were to be found all over the territory.