Poker Legalized Once Again in Ukraine

Young girl waving Ukraine flag

There is an ongoing debate about whether poker is a sport or a game of chance. The answer to this question very often determines its fate in a given country. Ukraine had previously categorized poker as being a game of chance, but it has now done a U-turn and re-classified it as a sport.

History of gambling in Ukraine

Most forms of gambling were made illegal in Ukraine in 2009. This decision was made not long after a fire caused the deaths of nine individuals at a gambling center.

The Law on Prohibition of Gambling Businesses was passed by the parliament in May 2009 and came into effect in June. By January 2010, gambling was no longer considered a licensable economic activity in the country.

The law defined gambling as any in which a person places a bet in exchange for the chance of receiving a prize, with the result being dependent either partially or wholly on chance.

Therefore, online gambling, bookmakers, and slots became illegal in a short space of time. The law explicitly describes what activities are still allowed and are not considered by the state to be gambling. These were bowling, pool, sporting events, creative competitions, lotteries, and draws that are free to enter.

In the first month of the ban, more than 500 illegal operations were shut down, which led to more than 6,000 slots being confiscated and a couple of hundred people being charged with various offenses. Despite this crackdown, there are still widespread gambling operators that provide their services illegally.

A draft law was publicized in November 2010 that would have allowed the creation of a national gambling operator that is owned by the state and would regulate the gambling sector and decide which private operators should be granted a license.

The fee for a license was set at $5m (£3.88m). The law also established strict standards for the financial background of any proposed operator. The license will be valid for seven years.

Certain areas of the country are designated as gaming zones. All gambling activities except the state lotteries must be located in one of those zones. A hotel with four or more stars and at least 100 rooms is considered a gaming zone, for example. The Crimea area is deemed to be a special form of a gambling zone.

A gaming zone cannot be within 500 meters of a healthcare center or a government or educational institution. This is aimed at preventing vulnerable people from gambling.

Poker in Ukraine

Many countries around the world have debated whether poker is a game of chance or a sport. Most poker players would, of course, say that it is not a game of chance and that it is skill-based, but what the authorities say is the most important thing.

In the 2009 law, poker was not considered a game that was somewhat dependent on chance. However, a year later, the justice minister did declare that poker is dependent on chance and therefore it became illegal.

However, state authorities have once again done a U-turn, and poker will be re-introduced soon because it will be added to the list of sports.

A group of poker operators took legal action, and the Supreme Court heard their case in 2013. They won the argument, but only tournament poker was to be allowed.

While the country was in the grips of strife in Crimea shortly after this decision, a lot of poker clubs continued their regular operations because the state was busy dealing with this more serious situation to pay them much attention.

It is not yet known when the poker operators will start up once more because there is no definite timeline for the state to develop regulations.

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