New Proposed Bill Could Legalize Poker and Redefine It as a Sport, not Gambling

The Israeli Poker Community welcomed the news, seeing it as a possible loosening on the tight noose around its neck.

By
December 16, 2018 12:47
4 minute read.
Poker cards and chips

Poker cards and chips. (photo credit: HISTORY CHANNEL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

 
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Following a recent Supreme Court ruling that says poker is a game of skill rather than luck, a member of the Israeli Knesset proposed a bill that would legalize poker tournaments in the country.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel proposed a legislation that would remove poker from the list of illegal gambling activity. If the bill is passed, poker players can play the game without the threat of up to 1-year imprisonment.

Poker tournament organizers, on the other hand, can go about their business without the fear of a three-year prison sentence.
Until then, poker remains illegal in Israel.

Despite this, many underground poker games are held in what are dubbed as “clubs” but are just apartments.

Cruise ships, on the other hand, host poker tournaments the moment they start sailing out to international waters. This takes advantage of one of the loopholes in the law and has so far spared cruise ships from prosecutions.

Many disregard potential legal consequences for the love of the game.

How poker was ruled out as gambling

In his decision, Supreme Court judge Neal Hendel concluded that poker is not a game of luck because “players go to contest and tournaments year after year.”

This means poker can be classified as a game of skill.

This inspired Haskel to bring back to the fore what have been numerous attempts in the past to legalize poker and gambling in general.

“Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that poker players are sportsmen and not gamblers, they should be permitted to practice on their home turf,” said Haskel.

The Israeli Poker Community welcomed the news, seeing it as a possible loosening on the tight noose around its neck.

Over the past months, the poker community has been subjected to negative headlines, the Unit for Combating Economic Crime has also began blocking unauthorized gambling domains, potentially affecting online poker operators in the foreseeable future.

But Haskel’s proposed bill could change all that.

Potential legal changes the proposed bill will create

It will define poker’s legal status and outline solutions for the ongoing tax issues.

Introduced in November 28, the bill is one of the many numerous attempts over the years to provide poker players with a more extensive legal environment. But they are plagued with many uncertainties and disputes and are paying taxes on their winnings in the six-figure range.


But with the new bill, the Israel Poker Players Association will be regulated and will be able to organize domestic and international tournaments.

Ultimately, the Finance Ministry would have control over poker in Israel.

The new bill could also mean changes in the poker players’ tax payments. Because it will be defined as a game of skill a new tax rate would have to be made in the legal sense.

Currently, players who declare their income as “lotteries, prizes and gambling” are taxed at 35%.

The Israel Tax Authority are tracking player winnings through sites like Hendon Mob and WSOP.com and studying how they should be taxed.

According to Sharon Fishman, Israeli criminal taxation attorney, “The tax authorities did not deal with poker players for many years. An administrative decision was recently taken there to zero in on this segment of professional poker players.”

When passed, the latest legislation will have tax implication for Israeli poker players. The recent 35% tax rate will become 50% because tournament winnings will be classified as business earnings when poker is legalized.

Gambling in Israel

A recent court ruling by a Tel Aviv district judge has given authorities the right to deal with illegal online gambling sites, blocking Israeli residents from accessing them.

Since the law was introduced many sites have been blocked and certain domains have been blacklisted by internet service providers. This ruling was inspired by a 2017 law that gave district courts the power to block websites that promote content that are illegal or nefarious.

Operators, however, will not face prosecution. They can set up their operations again, hiding behind a different domain.

The gambling sector in Israel is ruled by a long string of strict provisions. The main forms of gambling that are considered legal are sports betting and the lottery. This means Israelis can visit Nostrabet.com and similar sites without the fear of prosecution especially that Nostrabet mainly provides betting tips and reviews only. And in point of fact, there are lotteries and sports betting platforms that are run by state monopolies. So for those bettors who needs guidance, they can do their own research beforehand from these bookmaker review sites.  

The Israel Sports Betting Board (ISBB) was formed in 1968 to provide wagering opportunities that will support Israeli sports activities through the revenues the wagers generate. The ISBB is licensed to organize “games of skills” but not games of chance.
Some 1350 retail betting outlets have been opened in Israel, a majority of which are focused on fixed-odds winner bets on basketball and soccer games. Toto, a pool-style form of betting is also on offer.

With poker now considered a game of skill, it will become a legal form of gambling in Israel once the proposed legislation is passed.
Israel is home to many successful poker players, including 3 winners of the WSOP bracelets at the recent World Series of Poker Europe.

One of the winners, Timur Margolin, is currently fifth on the all-time winnings list in Israel with over $1.7 million earnings in total throughout his career in poker. Amir Lehavot, on the other hand, has earned more than $5.7 million during his career.

From gamblers, these poker players will soon become sportsmen whom Haskel says “bring respect and pride to the state in international competitions.”

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