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Afghans have a long history of gambling, although it doesn’t tend to be of the sort that is popular in other areas of the world, meaning things like casino games, poker, and betting on popular sports.
The most popular form of betting in Afghanistan is actually kite fighting, where combatants fly kites and people place bets on who can cut each other’s kite out of the sky. Players sharpen their kite strings to give themselves an edge with a mixture of ground glass and glue, and these matches can go on for up to an hour and attract a lot of both spectators and bettors, who watch in earnest to see whose kite will be cut down to the ground. (1)
Another very popular form of gambling here is bird fights, and while Afghans also bet on other forms of animal fights such as dog fights, bird fights is the most popular form here. The birds seldom fight to the death though as usually one of the birds simply runs away.
As far as poker goes, apart from poker being played by soldiers from other countries here, back when there were a lot of soldiers here, poker never really caught on and hasn’t really been a part of Afghan culture and still isn’t.
There’s really only one accomplished professional poker player from here, Sherkhan Farnood, who made a bit of a splash on the international tournament scene and won over $600,000 total, but this was back in 2007 and 2008, and he’s out of the scene now, so there really isn’t much inspiration from poker heroes for people to take up the game here. (2)
Not surprisingly, gambling became outlawed here when the Taliban took over the country, and the internet was outlawed as well. After the fall of the Taliban, gambling still remains outlawed, although the laws are said to be seldom enforced, but care is still advised if you are looking to engage in public gambling here. (3)
Playing Poker In Afghanistan
So an underground gambling market did emerge when it became outlawed, but this is pretty much confined to the popular forms here, which are once again kite fighting and bird fighting. So live poker doesn’t really exist here, even in the underground market, apart from any that might be played in private by foreign nationalists, who don’t allow locals into the games, even if they wanted to participate.
So there are no casinos or public gambling halls, and aside from this underground market, all other gambling happens on the internet here. This is not a country which has enjoyed much internet access here at all until very recently, but there has been some major improvements in infrastructure here lately and now about 10% of Afghans have internet access, up from virtually none not long ago.
That’s still a very small number compared to other countries, and this is not only one of the poorest countries in Asia, it also has gone through a lot of strife, but internet usage is growing among the upper middle class in the larger cities, and with this new access and some disposable income, this does bring with it the opportunity to do a little online gambling and even play some online poker. (4)
Afghanistan is one of the countries with more limited access to online poker rooms, and some major sites no longer offer play to its residents, due to a combination of the government not allowing gambling and general and especially due to the very low level of interest in poker in a country, and this is certainly the case in Afghanistan, where the interest in poker, at least at this point, is extremely low.
There are some online poker sites that aren’t fussy at all as far as what country you live in, so if you do live in Afghanistan and are interested in playing online poker, well that’s the only poker you’ll really be allowed to play and you can indeed play some online.
Since playing online tends to be beyond the reach of the authorities due to it being done in private, it’s a lot safer than, say, betting at a bird fight, and bird fighting and kite fighting aren’t things you can bet on online, so live betting will likely be popular for a long time, although one day the culture may change enough to make the game of poker something that may give these events more of a run for their money.