by Contributing Author
Gambling, be it land-based or online, is an activity well known to most people. However, the negative implications it has on some members of society have resulted in a generally negative attitude towards it.
Some countries are working on monetizing the activity for its revenue generation capacity while implementing services aimed at mitigating the downsides. However, other countries like Israel still frown upon commercial casino gaming.
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The Israeli government goes as far as placing casino gambling in the criminal code. Casino enthusiasts in the country are left with no option but to either travel, resort to illegal underground gambling establishments, or visit offshore online casinos. Israel does not regulate gambling sites. Here’s why:
An Overview of Israel’s Gambling Law
Israel takes a restrictive approach toward gambling. The country’s Penal Law (Israeli Penal Law 5737-1977) places a general ban on all forms of gambling, including games of chance, lotteries, and betting.
Further restrictions under the same legislation outlaw any form of gambling-related ancillary services. That means that gaming and betting venues are outlawed in the country. The types of gambling activities are spelled out under Chapter 12 of the country’s Penal Law. They include prohibited games of chance, betting, and lotteries.
- Prohibited Games – These are games in which the player stands to win money, valuable consideration, or any other benefit based on the outcome of the game. This applies where the game’s results are dependent on chance and not the player’s abilities or skills.
- Lotteries – Entails any arrangement that makes it possible to win money, valuable consideration, or any other benefit by drawing lots or in any other manner. Again, it applies where the outcome is based on pure chance and not the player’s abilities and skills.
- Betting – Arrangements that make it possible to win money, valuable consideration, or any other benefit by guessing the outcome of a sports or contest event, including lotteries.
The Negative Social Construct Towards Gambling
One can also argue that casino gaming remains illegal in Israel because the Israeli culture deems the activity as more of a bad influence on society than a positive force. Gambling creates more problems than it is worth by encouraging addictive and illegal activities.
This could have been the justification that the Israeli lawmakers had when they banned gambling. However, the state allows some basic forms of gambling. Some organizations are allowed to operate lotteries and it’s legal to gamble in private homes.
Due to the highly restrictive gambling laws in Israel, gaming companies that would want to invest in the country are often kept at bay.
In other terms, the legal position on gambling in Israel is informed by the will of the majority. Most people in the country are against the legalization of this “unhealthy” pastime activity.
The State of Casino Gaming in Israel
Both land-based and online casino activities are illegal in Israel. There is not a single physical casino in the country, and the law does not permit internet gambling either. However, that does not mean that Israelis do not love to play casino games.
That begs the question, what do Israeli nationals do when they want to play some table games and slots? Well, locals have a few options including traveling to gambling states, underground gambling, and offshore casinos.
Most Israeli players cross the Egyptian border to enjoy land-based casino gaming. There are a handful of full-service casinos near the said border including Movenpick, Taba Sands, and The Hilton. The other alternative that does not require any commuting is underground gambling communities, which are spread throughout the country.
Baccarat, blackjack, and roulette are extremely popular in private hideaways. The Israeli underground gambling community is estimated to be worth about $3.5 billion annually. However, these underground gaming hideaways are illegal.
Offshore Online Casinos
Although playing in foreign online casinos is considered illegal under the Penal Law, players are never prosecuted for visiting offshore casino sites. Some casino websites are completely blocked from offering their services to Israelis, but most are easily accessible.
The Online Gaming Market in Israel
Ironically, even with all these challenges, Israel has a thriving online gambling market. Even though online casinos are illegal, casino providers are not. Gambling companies are allowed to operate in the country, provided that they do not market and sell to Israeli residents.
In this way, the country still benefits from the gambling industry. There are several top online casino software providers and gambling sites based in Israel. Some examples of these companies include PokerStars, Playtech, and 888.
Provided that the operators are not offering their services to locals, they can maintain their headquarters in the country without any legal issues. This compromise is beneficial for Israel because it helps generate tax revenue.
Punishment for Illegal Gambling
People convicted of breaking the anti-gambling laws in Israel face different forms of punishment depending on the gambling offense committed. Penalties and punishment policies for illegal gambling in Israel do not differ much from those of other jurisdictions.
Local authorities have the power to arrest and issue fines. There have been occasional raids on underground gambling establishments as well. The government is also known to block casino website domains.
Historically, Israel has never embraced the expansion of gambling. However, that does not mean that the topic is always left out of discussions. There have been numerous talks on how to usher in a regulated gaming and gambling industry in the country, but none has come to fruition, yet.
Some politicians are open to the idea of creating mini-Vegas vacation resorts in the country. One proposed project for a vacation resort in Eilat has been pending since the early ‘90s.
A regulated gambling industry in Israel would help fight illegal unchecked gambling, offer consumer protection, and inject more money into the economy. Although casinos in Israel are still a pipe dream, the near future might be filled with surprises.