Poker Could Soon Become Legal in Israel under New Bill

Lawmaker tables bill calling for the legalization, regulation and taxation of poker in Israel

Poker could soon become legal in Israel, if a bill proposing the legalization of the game gains enough traction in the Knesset, the country’s legislature. The bill was introduced shortly after the nation’s Supreme Court ruled that poker was a game that required skill and its outcome was not entirely based on luck.

Poker has long been illegal in Israel. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, people caught playing the game faced up to one year in prison, while those organizing poker tournaments faced sentences of up to three years in prison.

In his recent ruling, presiding Supreme Court Judge Neal Hendel has said that poker is clearly a game of skill and “the fact that players go to contests and tournaments year after year strengthens” the notion that it is namely skill and not luck the outcome of the game depends on.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, Sharren Haskel, a member of Israel’s Likud party, has introduced a bill calling for the legalization of poker on the territory of the country. Under the bill, the game will be treated as one of skill, reflecting the definition it has been given by the country’s highest ranking court.

In addition, the bill provides for the organization of poker tournaments in Israel, including international ones. As mentioned earlier, the organization of such events is prohibited under current laws.

Tax Collection

The newly introduced bill also contains provisions for the regulation of the Israeli Poker Players Association. The association will be tasked with the organization of both national and international tournaments. Israel’s Finance Ministry will be the body to regulate and oversee the game of poker. It will also collect tax earnings from the organization of poker tournaments on the territory of the country.

Commenting on his piece of legislation, Mr. Haskel has said that “Israeli sportsmen bring respect and pride to the state in international competitions” and now as poker is treated as a sport by the Supreme Court and not as a game of luck or a form of gambling, poker players “should be permitted to practice on their home turf.” Mr. Haskel’s bill has been tabled for consideration by the Knesset and it is to be seen whether it will gain enough support.

While Israeli lawmakers’ stance toward poker might be softening, they are still firm on their determination to crack down on the provision of illegal gambling services in the country. And it should be noted that gambling, with very few exceptions, is prohibited in Israel.

News emerged last month that a Tel Aviv District Court has ordered that three gambling websites targeting Israeli players be blocked. The ruling was based on a 2017 law that allowed Israeli District Courts to block access to unauthorized gambling operations. Russian bookmaker 1xBet as well as P2V and Totobet777 were the three gambling websites that fell victims to the Tel Aviv District Court’s crackdown.

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