However, it’s also one of the world’s poorest countries, with a per capita nominal GDP of only a little more than $1000 per year, and is also a predominantly Muslim country, two factors that negatively influence gambling and poker participation.
Bangladesh is a fairly new country, being created in 1947, after the exit of the British in the region. Bangladesh’s gambling laws go even further back though, to the Public Gambling Act of 1967 from when they were part of the British Empire.
Gaming is defined as any betting that does not take place on certain horse races, under specified conditions such as being placed on the day of the race and through a licensed bookmaker. So Bangladesh, like some other Muslim countries, does allow betting on horses, but makes all other forms of what we generally to be considered to be gambling to be illegal. (2)
Lotteries sanctioned by the government are also legal here but they do not take place in gaming houses.
So it is against the law to run what is termed a public gaming house, and public gaming house is very broadly defined here, as any sort of enclosure where gambling occurs. So those operating it or being in possession of the space, or even occupying it, are liable, as well as anyone found present in an area used for gambling.
So this excludes all forms of gambling, other than those specifically authorized by law, whether one operates the games, owns or rents or is otherwise in charge of the space even though they may not operate the games, are present and involved in the betting, and even those merely present where gaming has been found to have occurred, or even may occur.
So this is a pretty broad law indeed, and there’s no question that it includes poker in addition to other forms of gambling, and it is even specifically against the law to own or be in possession of a deck of cards, as decks of cards are deemed to be instruments of gambling.
It’s not that possession of the cards themselves is a crime, but the law states that this is evidence of the location where they are found to be deemed a gaming house, and the owner can then be charged for operating an illegal gaming house just on this basis, without even any evidence of gambling ever occurring, and those present may also be charged with a crime.
The law actually goes as far as to specify that there does not have to be any evidence whatsoever of gambling actually taking place for a location to be found to be a in illegal common gaming house.
There is a provision though that exempts games of “mere skill,” but given that cards are proof of an establishment being a gaming house, whatever a game of mere skill means here, in conjunction with the other provisions of the law, likely does not include the game of poker, and more likely concerns games of pure skill where no luck is involved, like a horse race might be seen as, for instance.
Gambling offenses here carry a very small fine generally, of about $1.25, and efforts to raise the amount of this fine significantly, to over $60, but this was not successful. Violators are also subject to up to a month imprisonment. (3)
Playing Poker in Bangladesh
With poker playing being against the law, and even having a deck of cards leading to a finding of criminal behavior, that alone will serve as an obstacle to poker. There are of course no legal poker rooms here or any other legal land based gambling establishments, other than horse race betting and lotteries.
So there isn’t any public places you can play poker at, and there probably aren’t all that many private land based poker games running here, and although there is an underground gambling scene, it’s pretty much confined to bookmaking on cricket matches, which is far more popular than poker here. (4)
You’d probably have trouble finding a game of poker at all in Bangladesh, and we can say that this is virtually non existent. So poker players here have to turn to the online scene to play, as they do for the most part in many countries these days.
Bangladesh residents do gamble online, but not surprisingly, it is mostly confined to sports betting, and betting on cricket in particular. Since there are no legal or regulated online gambling sites in Bangladesh, this means players must turn to the online scene, and place their bets or play their poker through foreign websites.
In spite of the laws here, the authorities are pretty tolerant of gambling that goes on off the grid, and the bookmakers that operate out of the bars and restaurants here are only infrequently raided. It’s a whole different game when it comes to enforcing prohibitions against online gambling though, and thus far the government hasn’t made any efforts to prevent people from gambling online, and there’s no expectation that this will commence anytime soon.
The Future of Poker in Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s constitution states that “the state shall endeavor to prevent gambling and prostitution.” However, they do have certain forms of legal gambling now, and prostitution has actually become legal here, so it seems that these principles are softening up as the years go by.
In recent years, gambling has really taken off here, especially with the emergence and popularity of online gambling sites. So that may be the first step in building a bigger poker culture, and as more and more people get involved in gambling in general, and in turn become exposed more to the game of poker, and become more familiar with it, the poker market here may expand further.
On the downside, Bangladesh is at the very least thought of as a “grey market,” in spite of no one being concerned here about enforcing this law, when it comes to online poker at least.
So in the movement away from grey market countries to appease other, much more lucrative markets like the U.K., some big names are withdrawing from Bangladesh, including PokerStars and Full Tilt, who withdrew from Bangladesh as well as several other countries recently. (5)
If the big names aren’t marketing here then that certainly hurts the online poker market, although all areas do tend to be served by someone, and Bangladesh is one country where players may not be so selective about the poker sites they play at, but on the other hand waking up the Bangladeshi online poker market will require a real effort, something that the smaller online poker sites are less equipped to pull off.
The bottom line is that Bangladeshi online poker players can still play online, and it’s likely that they will continue to be able to for some time, but there’s less selection now for sure.
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