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Gambling in the Holy Land

I recently had the the option of  stopping over in Tel Aviv for 3 days on my flight back from a trip to Australasia.  I had never visited the Holy Land, and was interested to experience day to day life in this young, vibrant country and the only true democracy in the Middle East.  I was lucky to be hosted by friends of friends, an Israeli family who couldn’t do enough for me and offered real pearls of wisdom during my short stay there.

My host, Yossi, was also able to fill me in about the status of gambling in the country. So, first of all, sports betting and lottery are HUGE in Israel.  I mean big stuff! You’ll find billboards advertising millions in prize money, TV ads, radio campaigns and even sports halls and recreational centers built with funds from the national lottery displaying the logo. Israelis love their football and in the season, there is an active betting market through scratch card tickets and the like.

Unfortunately, there are no legal casinos in Israel.  Now and then, changes in the law are proposed by politicians, but nothing ever gets done about it.  A casino did once exist in Jericho, which is considered outside the boundaries of Israel, but with the Palestinian violence that increased in recent decades, the place is practically a ghost town.

But the government’s refusal to budge on legalizing casinos doesn’t seem to bother the local population, and it is estimated that around $3.6 billion is generated on ‘illegal’ gambling in Israel.

When it comes to online gambling, the picture is not much different.  Only official lottery and sports betting systems can offer wagering online, and the government doesn’t seem to show any signs of budging on this issue.  On the other hand, there are literally hundreds of online casinos that are situated outside the country’s jurisdiction, allowing Israelis to open accounts and wager at their sites, enjoying the full range of games.

I was surprised to learn that some of the biggest software companies were created by Israelis, including 888 Holdings and Playtech, and authorities allow these companies to operate out of Israel uninterrupted.

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