Many may think that the States of America is the only country that is having issues with the question of online gaming and poker. But nothing would be further from the truth. Australia continues to ban out-of-country gaming companies from their citizens and China, Russia and other countries continue to crack down on the activity. But there might be signs that one country, Israel, is looking to lighten up a bit regarding online gaming and poker.
Israeli Laws Never Friendly to Online Gaming
The history of the Israeli government towards online gaming has never been a good one. According to journalist Leo Giosue of the Jerusalem Post, the laws against online gaming have been set in for quite some time. In 2005 (and prior to the U. S. enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006), the Israeli government passed laws that inflicted severe penalties on credit card companies that accepted online gaming transactions. Then, in 2018, the Israeli government amped up the vitriol against online gaming by blocking Israelis from accessing three online gaming sites after the “Powers to Prevent Offenses Through an Internet Site Law” was passed earlier in the year.
These actions are strange for a country that, in a couple of instances, is rather forward thinking in developing technologies. Israel, according to Giosue, has become quite the haven for tech startups. Additionally, the country is the home of a couple of the major players in the online gaming and poker industry. 888 Holdings PLC was founded by Israelis and, while its headquarters are in London, there are portions of the company that are in Israel. Playtech PLC, responsible for development of online gaming software around the world, also headquarters in London but has development facilities located in the country.
So why does Giosue have the opinion that the sentiments regarding online gaming are beginning to soften in Israel? In his words, “Global capitalism and liberalization go hand in hand.”
Looking Outside the Country for Investment Opportunities
Giosue reports that Guatemala is looking to get into the online gaming industry, much like its Central American neighbor Costa Rica and its Caribbean neighbor Antigua did in the early Aughts. The Israeli government is looking at a new trade deal with Guatemala and, as a part of that new deal, many Israeli investors are looking at getting involved with Guatemala’s fledgling gaming industry. Giosue states that none other than Las Vegas Sands Corporation honcho Sheldon Adelson is reportedly interested in being a part of the action, with numbers in the $2 billion range being tossed around.
The gaming companies with some of their business in Israel are also looking for some help. Playtech and other companies are facing a great deal of heat from other operators around the world, especially the Chinese. This has caused their profits to dry up and, if the Israeli government saw fit to loosen the regulations, it would greatly aid these companies.
Tough to Change Old Ways
Although there is pressure for changes to be made, it is difficult to change the course that laws send a country. Israel can only look at the U. S. for a demonstration of the difficulties regarding relaxing the laws regarding online gaming.
Technically, the UIGEA of 2006 only prevented financial institutions from accepting gaming transactions. But this forced gaming companies such as PartyPoker and 888Poker out of the country. Sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker stayed, however, and immediately reaped the benefits. After “Black Friday” – the April 2011 indictment of leadership of the three main online poker rooms in the industry, including PokerStars and Full Tilt – there were only smaller operators left.
Since then, there have been changes in both directions. A decision issued by the Department of Justice under then-President Barack Obama in December 2011 opened online gaming for each state, providing the gaming stayed within the borders of said state. That decision was revoked, however, in early 2019 by a new Department of Justice and a new administration, with the guidance that laws were to revert to before the December 2011 ruling.
The Israeli government’s course with their online gaming laws is complex, to say the least. But Giosue asks an important question that, if answered, will determine the future. “The question seems to be how long Israel can wait before new legislation is passed,” he writes. “Sooner, rather than later, is becoming the likely answer.”