Israel Considers the Legalization of Poker

The Israeli Knesset during winter.

Reports of a mulled bill in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, have inspired many to think that poker may finally become legal in the country. Now, tournament hosts are considering the opportunity to bring the “game of skill” back.

Legalizing Poker and Inspiring a Wave of Tournaments

Poker has long been illegal in Israel. Even though the country’s gamers have been achieving one success after another, that has not moved authorities, with Israel Supreme Court to the fore, to act on this in any way, other than introducing a hefty 50% tax, and equating poker to business in the fiscal sense of the word.

The country has long tried to have its own legalized industry. Over a decade ago, the Israel Poker Players Association (PPA) attempted to bring a case in front of the Supreme Court, citing scientific evidence that the game was indeed one of “skill”.

However, statistically relevant information from a top academic in the country was not enough and the game was ruled against, with the court effectively banning poker. As a result, anyone who wants to play poker in Israel has to do so in secrecy. Online venues are still catering to players, though, so many Israeli can actually play on offshore websites, though the government does shut some of those every now and then.

Now, a Likund Party MP, Sharren Haskel, has introduced a new bill to the Knesset, pushing for another way to look at poker, precisely as a game of skill rather than, as it is now, a game of chance, which by extension means that poker is “a form of gambling”.

With the renewed push for the legalization of the game, there is much hope that a more meaningful debate can be achieved this time around, seeing poker finally garner the legal status it needs to expand its reach.

Israeli Players Continue to Be Known Worldwide

Meanwhile, many of the country’s players have been winning one trophy after another, putting Israel on the international map as one of the places where top poker talent is cultivated despite the day-to-day difficulties of actually finding and participating in a game.

Some notable names include Timur Margolin, Rafi Amit, Asi Moshe, Zvi Stern, and many more. It’s thanks to the continuous efforts and achievements of the aforementioned that Israel is drawing closer to either legalizing the game or having a more meaningful debate.

The future for the game could look very interesting indeed. If Haskel’s proposal manages to gain traction in the Knesset and is eventually voted into law, it would be easy to oversee the industry, with the Finance Ministry stepping in to collect tax.

This could also potentially lead up to a let-up in the stern legislation that now taxes professional players’ proceedings at 50% of the earnings. Shining the limelight back on poker and citing the successes of players along with the scientific evidence about the game’s merits may finally propel it through the legislative body of the country.

Although there is still some pushback and Israel continues to block websites, Israeli poker players and tournament hosts could soon find themselves with new opportunities.


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