This great country is packed with amazing hotspots such as The Lost City of Petra, The Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Eilat and off course Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps. Thousands of tourists are visiting Israel every single day of the year and they are ready to spend their well earned cash. But can they spend in on gambling? And what about the Israeli residents… which gambling options are available to them?
Gambling is legal in Israel, at least to a certain extent. The Israeli government allows two forms of state-run gambling games, namely: The National Lottery and Sports betting. Governmental body Mifal Hapayis is responsible for supervising the lottery and the Israeli sports betting committee is responsible for supervising sports betting.
Gambling in land based casinos
Although real casinos are banned throughout Israel, the government tolerates a cleverly found gambling construction: casinos on cruise ships! In short, these gambling companies know how to circumvent Israeli laws in an ingenious but simple way. Customers who want to gamble buy an entrance ticket for the cruise ship. This ship then sails a few miles up the sea, so that it ends up in international waters. Logically, Israeli laws and rules do not apply there, making the whole gambling operation legal. A smart trick!
The majority of this type of casino gambling cruises can be found in Eilat, a small city of around fifty thousand inhabitants, which is known by tourists as a water sport and winter sport destination. In that respect the ideal place to gamble. For locals it even has the nickname “Red Sea Vegas”. In Haifa, the third city of Israel, there are two large cruise ships that offer gambling as well.
There are many Jewish and Islamic people living in Israel and according to the laws of these religions, gambling is a sin. This does not make things any easier in Israel. The chance of additional gambling restrictions – also for the casino cruises in Eilat – is currently greater than the chance that gambling will actually become legal. For example, on some cruise ships in Eilat, residents of Israel are no longer allowed.
And Israelis don’t have much options at neighboring countries either. Lebanon has a similarly strict gambling law and Jordan is a real gambling disaster. Egypt does have a few land-based casinos that can be found nearby tourist hotspots but the distance for Israeli people is not optimal to say the least.
We do have to mention that there is a real land-based casino in Lebanon that also offers slot machines and table games, but the travel distance is terrible as well.
Large illegal gambling circuit
Israelis have traditionally loved gambling. It is not for nothing that large gambling companies such as Playtech, Microgaming and 888 have their roots in Israel. The country is known for its innovative companies, its trading spirit and smart Jewish businessmen.
Despite the strict gambling laws, there is a lot of casino action. The illegal trade is flourishing and in major cities such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva, Ashdod, Netanya, Beersheba and Ashkelon there are dozens if not hundreds of illegal casinos.
Table games such as Poker, Blackjack and Baccarat are particularly popular among Israelis. It is estimated that a few billions of dollars per year is earned in this underground scene. However, when we talk about Texas Holdem Poker we have to mention that the really big tournaments in this area are being played in Eilat, on the various cruise ships.
Online casinos Israel
The regular casino industry may be complicated, but the rules regarding online gambling are even worse. On the one hand, the Israeli government accepts a number of European gambling companies such as NetEnt, but at the same time it forces local internet service providers to block online casinos. In addition, as a foreigner or tourist it is allowed to gamble online, but the same is prohibited for Israelis.
The tricky thing is that Israel has no official laws and regulations regarding gambling in general. The current government relies on an age-old law, namely the Israeli Penal Law 5737 – 1977. Since the internet did not exist at the time, there is nothing in this law about online gambling. It does, however, prohibit the operation of gambling companies in general and the prohibition of residents from participating in gambling-related activities. Anyway, this old law caused a lot of confusion and companies interpreted the rules in such a way that they turned out to their own advantage.
In 2005 a judge ruled on this subject and finally clarified it. From that moment online gambling was officially prohibited.
So, you will not find many online casinos in Hebrew, the official language in Israel, although there are always parties who ignore laws and regulations and see this as a gap in the market, a risky but easy way to earn a lot of money quickly without having to deal with much competition. Yet there are millions of Israelis who are involved in online gambling every day. Even a special government-initiated censorship program that blocks illegal gambling sites in Israel has little effect in that regard. Most players know that all these blockages can easily be circumvented with a VPN, and they are used en masse.