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IsraelThe world’s only Jewish-majority country, Israel was established after the United Nations recommended such a state be created in Palestine following the end of World War II. Today, the nation struggles to find its place in the Middle Eastern community, as religious and cultural differences have often created tension both with its neighbors and within its own lands.

One area in which Israel is much like its neighbors, however, is in its treatment of online gambling. As a strongly religious state, it is hardly surprising that the government keeps rather tight control over the gaming industry here, both in terms of what is allowed in the real world and what residents can access online. However, the situation isn’t as bad as it might be: efforts to prevent access to Internet casinos have largely been thwarted, meaning there are plenty of Israeli gambling sites to choose from, with most run by foreign operators.

Foreign Sites Necessary for Online Play

Despite some flexibility in the land-based area for certain forms of gaming, there are no such allowances made for online betting in Israel. The government does not condone online casinos, and has, at times, made concerted efforts to block Israeli citizens from accessing foreign gaming sites. The anti-online gaming stance was made clear in 2005, when the nation’s Attorney General both ordered local real money gambling sites to close, and for financial institutions to stop processing payments to such websites. So far, only one backgammon site has been excluded from these orders.

Thankfully, residents here still have access to a number of sites that operate outside of the country. While officials have made efforts to block access to these operations, they have been largely unsuccessful in doing so. In recent cases, courts in Israel have even sided against the government in their efforts. In a 2012 case, courts at two different levels found that the Tel Aviv Police did not have legal authority to issue an order to ISPs forcing them to block access to the sites. While the government then looked to authorize legislation that would make such an order valid, the effectiveness of efforts to prevent access to Internet casinos and poker rooms has been limited, at best.

This means that if you want to place bets over the web, you’ll have plenty of choices - there is no lack of online casinos in Israel. While there are companies that do not operate here, many others are happy to offer real money play. This means you’ll find numerous sites offering games from a variety of software providers, including:

  • Microgaming
  • NetEnt
  • Play’n GO
  • Betsoft
  • Realtime Gaming

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Sports Betting Popular in Controlled Market

You might be surprised to learn that while it is heavily regulated, gambling is allowed throughout Israel. The practice is strongly controlled by the government, but in the limited areas they regulate, individuals are free to enjoy placing bets freely.

Perhaps the most popular gambling-related pastime in the country is sports betting. All legal activity in this sector is overseen by the Israeli Commission for Sports Gambling, a government agency. Exactly what can be wagered on changes from time to time: in recent years, the Knesset has expanded the offerings, allowing Israelis to bet on horse racing that takes place in other countries as well as other sporting events (soccer and basketball being particularly popular here.

Also popular is the national lottery, which is run by a state agency known as Mifal HaPayis. The organization was established in 1951 to fund a hospital in Tel Aviv, but was eventually expanded to a nationwide program that supports funding for education, recreation, and the arts. Open to anyone who is at least 18 years old, there is a weekly main drawing each week, along with keno, scratch cards, and The Big Lottery: a yearly lottery game with a top prize of 50 million shekels (or about $13 million).

One thing you won’t find here is a full-fledged casino. The country has always resisted the possibility of allowing casino gambling, though the issue has come to the forefront a couple times over the past few decades. Sheldon Adelson expressed an interest in building there in the 1990s, and more recently, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has floated the possibility of opening a resort in Eilat, in an attempt to increase interest in what is already a popular spot for tourists.

Eilat is already home to cruises that offer gambling as soon as they reach international waters, but these would be the first land-based operators licensed by the state. The idea would be either to allow existing hotels to apply for gaming licenses, or to build a new casino on the site of the existing airport in the city, as a newer airport is already under construction to replace it.

Expansion Plan Faces Fierce Opposition

While Netanyahu is likely to continue lobbying for the addition of casino gaming in the resort town of Eilat, it appears unlikely that his ambitions will be realized anytime soon. So far, the proposal has met with strong opposition from legislators, and to make matters worse, that opposition has come from all parts of the Israeli political landscape.

The prime minister has hoped that adding a new attraction would help relieve a slump in tourism at the destination, which has suffered largely because of a sharp decline in Russian vacationers. But with both Netanyahu’s own orthodox and right-wing coalition partners in government, along with a variety of Jewish and Arab opposition lawmakers, it remains unclear where he will be able to generate support for the project.

According to a study by the Tourism Ministry, building one or more casinos would benefit Eilat. There would almost certainly be an uptick in tourism: the city is known for being more affordable than many regional destinations in the Middle East, and both foreign and domestic travelers would likely flock to the resort city. Government estimates put the increased revenues at well over $300 million per year. On the other hand, they also warn that such an expansion could increase gambling problems in the nation.

Given the wide opposition to the proposal, we don’t expect to see casinos pop up in Eilat – or anywhere else in Israel – for at least the next few years. Beyond that, it is hard to project, as it remains possible that future governments may feel that the benefits outweigh the costs, even in this fairly conservative state. However, we can confidently say that the regulation of online gaming sites is even further off, meaning that gamblers here will be relying on foreign sites to meet their betting needs for the foreseeable future.

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