By Contributing Author
While it is illegal for Israelis to engage in on line gambling, many gaming web sites are actually based in Israel. Their development and support offices can be found throughout Startup Nation.
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So Israelis can make a living from Internet gambling while not being legally able to partake in it themselves.
Israeli entrepreneurs, as well as Jewish ones all over the world, can be found among the owners of some of the biggest Internet casino operations. And Jewish businessmen like Sheldon Adelson have made a fortune from traditional gambling casinos.
The Israeli government has been considering the legalization of gambling in the country for some time now. Specifically, there are plans to open casinos in the southern resort city of Eilat in order to stimulate tourism there. Check these guys out. Interestingly, the plans would only allow foreigners to gamble there and not Israeli citizens.
Online Gambling Is Huge
Gambling, and especially online gambling, is big business nowadays. Enabled by the technological developments that occurred over the last two decades, including smart phones and high speed Internet connections, it offers high profits for the operators. That’s because the house never loses in gambling.
A Completely Legitimate Industry
It is a well-known fact that American Jews played a significant role in turning Las Vegas into the gambling paradise that it is today. Bugsy Siegel, Sam Cohen, Morris Lansburgh, Moe Dalitz – these are just a few of the names that were involved into the establishment of modern Las Vegas.
Most of those guys were mobsters, or at least somewhat shady, but when it comes to online gambling and the role of Jews, the situation is completely different. Here we’re talking about entrepreneurs, innovators and computer geeks who dominate a large industry without breaking any laws or being involved in unethical dealings.
Some of the largest and most reliable online gambling companies in the world are owned and run by Jews: Four names stand out.
- Teddy Sagi – Founder of Playtech, one of the largest online gambling software providers.
- Avi Shaked – Founder of 888 Holdings, one of the largest online gambling operators in the world.
- Isai Scheinberg – Founder of PokerStars, one of the most popular poker websites.
- Noam Lanir – Founder of Empire Online, one of the first publicly online poker companies.
Teddy Sagi – Playtech
Sagi founded Playtech in 1999 and has increased its value and its relevance in the industry, often through the acquisition of other firms. And it doesn’t seem like he’s going to stop. Sagi still owns a third of the company. Many successful online casino operators are powered by Playtech’s software.
One notable example is perhaps the most renowned British bookie William Hill. When the company decided that it wanted to invest in the growing online gambling industry, it struck a deal with Playtech. The two companies started a joint venture and William Hill later bought Playtech’s share in it. Playtech earned $670 million from the deal.
Sagi is now one of the richest people in Israel and his net worth is valued at about $3.3 billion. He famously advised the former William Hill CEO that if one wants to become a billionaire, he has to make some people millionaires first. Sagi became so successful because he was one of the first people to realize the potential of online gambling. He noted that gambling and sex are the two most profitable online business.
- Playtech is one of the constituents of the FTSE 250 Index;
- Sagi owns most of Camden Market, London’s second most popular tourist destination;
- Sagi lives with 2006 Miss Israel Yael Nizri, they have two daughters and own houses in Tel Aviv, London, Berlin and the United States.
With his knowledge, business acumen and years of experience, Sagi is expected to remain one of the most important figures in the online gambling industry in the years to come.
Avi Shaked – 888 Holdings
Avi Shaked founded 888 Holdings together with his late brother Aharon and another pair of brothers, Shay and Ron Ben-Yitzhak. The story is pretty amazing, Aharon and Avi, who was a dentist, went to Monte Carlo and immediately realized the potential of gambling.
They decided to open an online casino despite the fact that they didn’t know much about running a casino or creating software. The brothers mortgaged their homes and joined forces with the Ben-Yitzhaks. Shay is a software developer and he created the original games that were featured on the first 888 casino website.
The rest is history. 888 is listed on the LTSE, Avi Shaked still owns about 50% of the company, whereas the Ben-Yitzhak brothers own about 11%. The company operates out of Gibraltar and it now runs a poker, a sports betting and a bingo site, in addition to the online casino.
- Avi is an avid socialist and at one time he was a candidate of the Israeli Labour Party, but he wasn’t elected;
- Shaked is also an active member of the Geneva Initiative, a group that is working on a solution for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
- In 2014 888 Holdings refused a takeover bid worth £700 million pounds.
Isai Scheinberg, PokerStars
Isai Scheinberg and his son Mark are no longer the owners of PokerStars, but they managed to build the largest poker website in the world, before selling it to Amaya Gaming in 2013.
PokerStars’ World Series of Poker tournament and its popularity had a huge influence on the promotion and commercialization of online poker. The website started offering real money poker as early as 2001, and the company was based on the Isle of Man. The Scheinberg family were the major shareholders.
In 2009 PokerStarts organized the largest online poker tournament with almost 150, 000 participants. Two years later, 200, 000 people entered and in 2013 there were 225, 000 participants.
- Scheinberg sold PokerStars for the staggering amount of $4.9 billion in 2014;
- PokerStars has its own internet TV channel, PokerStars.tv
- A number of high-profile athletes have promoted PokerStars, including Rafael Nadal, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gianluigi Buffon.
Noam Lanir – Empire Online
Lanir is the son of an Israeli war veteran and he considered a military career, but he was drummed out of the military after only 18 months.
He founded Empire Online and when the company went public in 2005, it was valued at $750 million. Lanir had a somewhat unpleasant experience with PartyGaming, who provided the software for the Empire Online poker site and eventually decided to sell his website to them for $210 million, a fraction of what it was worth.
He then changed the name of the company to Livermore Investment Group and is still the CEO and dominant shareholder. The company invests in real estate, hedge funds and private equities.
A Simple Answer
Conspiracy theorists and anti-Semites certainly love to point out the fact that so many Jews are prominent in the gaming industry. But the reason for this is simple. Israeli entrepreneurs were brave enough to invest a lot in a new, unsecure and unregulated industry, at a time when others were too afraid to do so.