The poker community in Israel is welcoming a newly proposed bill that will legalize poker as a sport, not as gambling. The bill, if approved, could help in loosening the tight grip of regulations that surround poker.
The bill follows a recent ruling by the Supreme Court which suggests that poker is not a game of luck, but skill. Likud MK Sharren Haskel, a member of the Israeli Knesset, wants to legalize poker tournaments in the country. Poker will be removed from the illegal gambling activity list if the bill is passed, helping the players avoid the 1-year imprisonment that is currently associated with playing the game.
The tax issues related to the game will also be sorted if the proposal is accepted, providing the Finance Ministry the authority over the game. The Israel Poker Players Association will be regulated and will get the green light for organization national and international events.
A new tax code could likely apply to poker players in the country. Players who declare their income from lotteries, gambling and prizes are currently taxed at 35%. WSOP.com and Hendon Mob are being used to track player winnings by the Israel Tax Authority to help decide the tax code. The legislation may, however, increase the tax burden on the players as tournament winnings are classified as business earnings, attracting a 50 percent tax.
In the past few months, the Unit for Combating Economic Crime has blocked several unauthorized gambling domains, affecting poker players in the process. The current rule also provides for a 3-year prison sentence to poker tournament organizers. Until the new proposals are debated and accepted, poker in Israel will continue being illegal.
The poker industry is thriving under the legal radar where apartments are used as underground poker game venues called ‘clubs. Cruise ships also hold these tournaments as soon as they step out in international waters, exploiting a legal loophole that spares cruise ships from prosecution.
Supreme Court judge Neal Hendel concluded in his ruling said, “Players go to contest and tournaments year after year,” indicating that it isn’t a game of luck. Lawmaker Haskel built upon this judgment to propose that poker is classified as a game of skill and legalize the tournaments. Haskel said that the Supreme Court ruling ensures that poker players are not gamblers, they are sportsmen. This could also help several Israeli players who are doing well in the World Series of Poker.