Currency: Israeli New Shekel (ILS)
Time Zone: UTC+2
Casinos with Poker
Israel is a very religious country – after all, it lies on land that is very important to three of the world’s major religions. According to a 2016 Pew Research study, 81% of the people are Jewish, 14% are Muslim, 2% are Christian, while the remaining 3% have other beliefs.
The two most dominant religions, Judaism and Islam, both frown upon gambling.
The Talmud, the sacred Jewish text, writes that “whoever plays with dice” cannot serve as a witness. That is not an explicit prohibition on gambling – however, rabbis around the world consider gambling to be ill-advised at best.
In Islam, it’s a much clearer picture – gambling is referred to as “maisir” and is strictly forbidden.
In a religious-cultural background like this, it’s no surprise that land casinos are illegal in Israel. However, fortunately, there are some games of chance that you can play there after all.
The national lottery and sports betting are legal in the country – however, they’re both in the hands of a state monopoly. Also, cruise ships with casino rooms aboard can dock in an Israeli port, in which case the local residents can get on and sail to the sea for some gambling action.
Online gambling is also prohibited, apart from the aforementioned lottery and sports betting. Despite that, Israeli tech mogul Teddy Sagi made his billions by providing software for online casinos.
Also, just like in many other countries, an online gambling ban is not impossible to circumvent, especially for poker players – poker is usually not policed as severely as casino games. The government tried to force ISP’s to block their customers from accessing online gambling sites, but when they refused to do so, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can’t force them to do it.
The 2020 Israel Poker Cup took place in January 2020 – however, it wasn’t held in Israel, rather, in Bulgaria.
Famous Israeli Poker Players
Eli Elezra served in the Israeli army – he even went to prison for disobeying military orders. He’s a 4-time WSOP gold bracelet winner. He won the $3,000 World Championship 7-Card Stud Hi-Low event in 2007; the $2,500 2–7 Triple Draw Lowball (Limit) event in 2013; and the $1,500 7-Card Stud event twice, in 2015 and 2019.
Elezra has cashed for $3.815 million in live tournaments during his career. He was also a regular feature on the classic poker show on NBC, Poker After Dark, where he played high stakes cash games against the biggest names of poker.
Currently, Amir Lehavot sits on top of Hendon’s Israeli all-time money list with $6.004 million in lifetime earnings. He too is a WSOP gold bracelet holder – he won the $10K PLO event in 2011. In 2013, he came in 3rd in the WSOP Main Event for $3.728 million, which is the biggest single live tournament cash of his career to date.
Just like Elezra, Asi Moshe from Israel has also won an outstanding four WSOP golds. He took down the $1,500 NLHE event in 2014; the €1,650 No Limit Hold’em 6-Handed Deepstack event at WSOP Europe in 2018; the $1,500 NLHE Bounty event in 2019; and the €1,650 Pot Limit Omaha/No Limit Hold’em Mix event at WSOP Europe, also in 2019.
– Playing Live Poker in Israel –
Live Poker Legislation in Israel
The Israeli Penal Law, 5737-1977 prohibits any form of game of chance in the country and outlines prospective punishments to the organizers. However, there are two exceptions to this rule.
The Israeli national lottery, Mifal Hapayis, was founded in 1951. The Israel Sports Betting Board (ISBB) was founded in 1966. Both of these organizations can provide lottery and sports betting services, respectively. Both of them are state-run.
Live Poker Venues in Israel
As we discussed earlier, live poker is illegal in Israel. However, there is a way for you to get some tournament action in the country – safely and legally.
If you visit pokerisrael.co.il, you’ll find a long tournament schedule with events taking place in major cities across Israel – they’re in Jerusalem, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, Kfar Saba, and others.
So, how does this work?
These tournaments don’t have buy-ins. You pay a ILS250 ($73.50) admission fee to enter the event at the bar or restaurant where it’s taking place. There isn’t any money in the tournament prize pools. Rather, the players play for prizes, such as cell phones, laptops, or vacations.
That way this isn’t considered real money gambling, thus these events can be organized legally.
– Casinos and Poker Rooms in Israel –
– Play Online Poker in Israel –
As we wrote earlier, all gambling is illegal in Israel except for the national lottery and state-run sports betting. This applies to internet gambling as well.
The state-run betting site is Toto Winner (winner.co.il). They do not offer online poker, unlike some of the major international sportsbooks. Therefore Israeli players don’t have a legal option for online poker.
What’s worse, many major online poker rooms, such as partypoker, Natural8, or 888, restrict Israeli players from playing on their servers. The only option for the locals is either to use a VPN, or play on another site, for example Unibet, which doesn’t restrict them from playing.
If they do decide to do so, they’re relatively safe – the government usually doesn’t penalize people for playing online poker. They did try to get the ISP’s to ban international poker sites, but – as we wrote in our intro – the Supreme Court ruled that would be unconstitutional.
– News from Israel –