Israel to Define Legal Status of Poker

Israel is set to define the legal status of poker in its jurisdiction following many years of confusion. It will also clarify the tax rate poker players in the country need to pay.

This new consideration will be part of a new bill in 2019, which is being introduced by Sharren Haskel of the Likud Party. It would see a proper definition of poker’s legal status, as well as an appropriate tax rate for this activity.

Potential legal changes

The bill was introduced in November 2018. There have been numerous attempts over the years to bring in a more extensive legal environment for poker players, as there has been a lot of uncertainty and many disputes. Players have even paid tax in the six-figure range on their winnings.

There was a recent significant court ruling on the issue by Supreme Court judge Neal Hendel, who said: “The fact that the players go to contests and tournaments year after year strengthens the conclusion that it is not a game of luck.”

The bill would also mean the regulation of the Israeli Poker Players Association, which would then be able to organize tournaments both domestically and internationally.

Haskel said: “Israeli sportsmen [sic] bring respect and pride to the state in international competitions. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that poker players are sportsmen and not gamblers, they should be permitted to practice on their home turf.”

The Finance Ministry would have the ultimate control over poker in the country.

Ongoing tax issues

The long-running debate in Israel on poker is – is it a game of skill or a game of chance?.

If this new bill proves to be successful, poker would become a skill game in the legal sense. This would enable the Finance Ministry to take the necessary steps and considerations when setting a new tax rate for the activity.

Many of Israel’s leading poker players have been legally disputing their tax payments. The Israeli tax authority looked through databases of poker tournament results to see how these players were performing.

The tax authority is focusing on Rafi Amit and Uri Miller in particular. The authority claims Miller owes tax of 50% on his 2010 winnings of $280,000. Amit has lifetime earnings in poker of around $900,000 in live games. Therefore, for his 2007 winnings, the authority is demanding a $650,000 payment.

Ongoing gambling changes in Israel

This issue of poker’s legal status is part of a wider-ranging shift in Israel’s gambling policies.

A recent court ruling means that illegal online gambling sites can be adequately dealt with by the authorities.

A Tel Aviv district court judge ruled in favor of the country’s cyber unit, which was given the go-ahead to block Israeli residents from accessing illegal gambling sites. Three specific platforms were listed in this case.

The basis for this ruling was a 2017 law that gives the power to district courts to block websites that promote illegal or nefarious content.

Many sites have been blocked since this law’s introduction. However, people are questioning its efficacy, with internet service providers blacklisting certain domains.

The people operating these sites do not face prosecution. Therefore, they can set up their operations again using a different domain and continue to target Israeli residents in that manner.

There are calls to bring in stricter measures to discourage this strategy. Israel is just one of a number of countries that has enacted gambling blacklisting activities. Italy and Poland take similar approaches in Europe.

Strict gambling regulations

This is the latest in a long string of strict provisions Israeli authorities have in place on the gambling sector.

Sports betting and the lottery are the main forms of legal gambling. No Israeli companies can operate an online gambling platform.

However, many notable gambling companies have ways to get around the rules, such as basing certain aspects of their operations in the country.

The well-known 888 Holdings lists a number of Israelis as its founders. The company’s development and marketing subsidiary is in Israel.

One of the leading developers of gaming software, Playtech, has its marketing and technical support departments in Israel. William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral take a similar approach.

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