Israel Poker Bill Would Reclassify Card Game as a Sport, Legalize Activity

Posted on: December 17, 2018, 09:37h. 

Last updated on: December 17, 2018, 09:37h.

Legislation in Israel would reclassify poker as a sport, not gambling, and remove severe penalties that potentially face those who currently play the card game.

Israel poker gambling legal
A bill authored by Sharren Haskel seeks to legalize poker in Israel. (Image: Knesset)

The Supreme Court of Israel recently ruled that poker is a “game of skill” rather than a “game of chance.” Judge Neal Hendel said in his reasoning “the fact that the players go to contests and tournaments year after year strengthens the conclusion that it is not a game of luck.”

With the judgment, lawmakers in Israel are now free to introduce legislation to remove poker from being included in the country’s list of illegal gambling activities. Knesset member Sharren Haskel (Likud), the second youngest member of the legislature at 34-years-old, is wasting little time in motioning to legalize poker.

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,” Haskel declared.

Haskel introduced a bill late last month that would allow citizens to play poker. It would remove the possible one-year prison sentence for those who are currently found guilty of playing the card game, and three-year prison term for those who organize tournaments and events.

Widespread Activity

Just because poker has been illegal in Israel doesn’t mean card games aren’t being held. In fact, poker is commonly found in “clubs” across the country. Haskel says it’s time to celebrate Israelis who are skilled in the game and “bring respect and pride to the state in international competitions.”

Her legislation would also bring in money for Israel. If Haskel’s bill is passed and signed into law, poker players would see their winnings taxed at 50 percent, as the money would be considered business earnings.

Sharon Fishman, a criminal taxation attorney speaking with The Jerusalem Post, says federal officials have recently begun cracking down on poker players who aren’t paying taxes on their rogue winnings.

“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,” Fishman explained.

Gaming Expansion

Gambling largely remains banned in Israel. The two exceptions are the state’s lottery and sports betting. Despite poker potentially becoming a legal sport in Israel, there doesn’t seem to be much of an appetite to authorize other forms of gambling.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pushed to legalize as many as four casinos in 2016. He pointed to Macau and its massive tax benefit as reason for considering casinos.

But allowing full-fledged gambling to commence in the holiest country on Earth was met with widespread opposition. Another reason the effort failed was that billionaire Sheldon Adelson — the prime minister’s longtime friend and ally — wasn’t interested in taking his Las Vegas Sands empire to Israel.

Adelson, Donald Trump’s largest 2016 campaign donor, convinced the president to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year. The pro-Israel casino magnate reportedly paid for some of the associated costs.