Will the gambling debate in Israel ever end?

The Supreme Court ruled poker as a game of skill. As such, Israeli citizens should be allowed to play it. However, finally turning the game of poker into a legal activity will need legislation.

Gambling 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC)
Gambling 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC)
The recent ruling issued by a Supreme Court judge on poker as a “skill-based game” brought Israel's contentious issue with gambling back into light. Until a law is passed, the game of poker will be considered illegal and anyone caught in violation will suffer consequences. A step towards that direction was taken when Likud MK Sharren Haskel introduced a bill permitting poker tournaments in the country. The question that remains to be answered is whether that bill ever becomes law.
Gambling and Israeli law
Chapter Twelve of the Israeli Penal Law contains provisions in relation to gambling. It defines a “prohibited game” as one that involves a person winning money that results from chance rather than ability. Another important definition in the law is that of a “place of prohibited games” which are venues where “prohibited games” are played, be it in the public or among certain persons.
Although the law states that games won by chance are illegal, Israel has a state-run lottery and sports betting agency. Both of these involve more chance than a game of poker, which actually requires some level of thinking in order to win. While there are moments of luck, most of it depends on skill.
The Supreme Court ruled poker as a game of skill. As such, Israeli citizens should be allowed to play it. However, finally turning the game of poker into a legal activity will need legislation.
Haskel's bill intends to do that, but only time can tell whether or not it comes to fruition. It cannot be denied, however, that the idea of gambling is still very much frowned upon by many in Israeli society.
Legal gambling forms in Israel
The lottery and sports betting are technically activities that fall under the category of “gambling.” Anyone who participates puts up money in the hopes they can win big based on a specific outcome. A win in any greatly depends on luck rather than skill. Although the law states that games won by “chance” are illegal, gambling institutions that regulate such games are controlled by the state.
In other words, the legal aspects of gambling in Israel are quite confusing. And these are only for the land-based properties. How about gambling that takes place online?
Many choose to interpret the law on gambling as applicable to the activity being done online. Just like their physical counterparts, online lotteries and sports betting aren't considered illegal.
Any Israeli who is fond of placing bets on outcomes of football matches, for example, can go online without fear of being punished by the authorities. It's also safe for them to look up information on bookmakers on Efirbet.com providing reviews of popular bookmakers. This activity isn't considered illegal since sports betting is allowed in the country. Through online platforms, many Israeli's can experience the thrill of betting on particular odds in the hope that the returns double their initial investment.
Those who want the actual thrill of sitting on a table and betting money, there's always the resort town of Eliat. A cruise ship can be boarded that will sail away from Israeli borders, thus making the activity on board a legal one.
The case for gambling
No less than the Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, himself reportedly brought up the idea of setting of a legal physical place where people can gamble. This was floated up in 2015 but nothing seemed to off of it.
The plan was to build a casino in the resort city of Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel. Eilat, of course, is known for activities such as snorkeling and diving but also for cruise ships that can take guests on board – away from Israeli territory – for gambling.
There already exists some form of gambling, why not make it legal? The answers to that require a deep philosophical probe but a simple argument could be this: it can attract tourists.
Think of the United States: they have Las Vegas. Visitors, local and foreign, make it a point to drop by a casino to play some games. These tourists also have to eat and find a place to sleep, which means that every visitor counts as they contribute to the economy.
The case against gambling
Coming up with a single reason why gambling is bad is easier than thinking about why it's a good thing. After all, gambling has been linked with suspicious individuals and bad behavior for many years. It has even been the cause of many fights and debts, and has even ruined lives.
Gambling is also associated with addictive behavior. After all, there is a thrill to winning back big on a very small bet. And the idea of casinos constantly taking money from guests doesn't sit well with everyone.
But despite the negative stigma and the law about it, many Israeli's go to “parties” where poker tournaments are held. It begs the question, why not legalize the activity if people are going to resort to illicit activity anyway? Again, the answer to that question will require research that shows the positive attributes of gambling.
There's also the issue of where the earnings of casinos and other gambling venues should go. Most likely they will end up in the pockets of operators. On the other hand, the state-controlled Mifal Hapayis and Toto give their earnings for the public good.
Gambling is a contentious issue in Israel, with both sides presenting valid arguments. With the Supreme Court ruling and the introduction of a poker bill, only time will tell whether the activity will finally be legalized.