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Gambling in Iran goes back at least 6,000 years, where they were known to play dice games fashioned out of bone. While Iran is a Muslim country, and Muslims are known to really limit their gambling, in general at least, it wasn’t until the Islamic Revolution in 1978 that gambling became outlawed by legislation for the most part. (1)
This isn’t surprising given that the country then became controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, with the Supreme Leader of the country being a religious figure, which has consisted of two thus far, the rather famous Ruholla Khomeni, who presided over the Iran Hostage Crisis, and the present Supreme Leader, Ali Khomeni. (2)
So these gentleman aren’t exactly liberals when it comes to permitting gambling, and a lot of this stems from the general Islamic belief that gambling tempts people to believe in luck and therefore draw them away from Allah. (3)
Gambling is considered a sin, generally anyway, and believing in luck and not Allah is what is frowned upon here in particular. Determinism plays a central role in this faith, and is at least seen as interfering with that, and by extension, the work of Allah.
There are some Muslim countries that are surprisingly tolerant of gambling though, at least as far as the people being Muslim, but in the case of Iran, with an Islamic government essentially, you can bet that they are going to be pretty strict about this, and most Islamic countries are in fact.
Interestingly enough, it is believed that the Prophet Mohammad tolerated certain forms of gambling, so they are seen as permissible in Iran, and here that includes things like betting on horse races, camel races, and archery contests, and this view is well supported by the government and the religious leaders.
Since gambling is forbidden, they don’t call placing such bets on these events gambling, they call it “predicting.” So it is OK to wager on these predictions, because if you were actually caught gambling, you would be subject to flogging and jail time here. (4)
It might be argued that the same rationale would apply to predicting any sporting event, but the interpretation used here is a strict one, and therefore it requires specificity which serves to limit the scope to contests which were encouraged by the Prophet Mohammad.
Playing Poker in Iran
Needless to say, there are no casinos or poker rooms here. There are no bars either, this is a very conservative country, and drinking in public will get you thrown in jail actually.
Playing poker for money is simply forbidden, whether that is at a public poker room or playing for money in a private or home game. Gambling is not permitted here under any circumstances, even so called social gambling, keeping in mind that this does not include betting that is defined as predicting. They don’t consider poker to be predicting, it is seen as a game of chance, and does have chance as an element of it at in fact.
Poker hasn’t been a popular game in Iran at all historically, and most people even today aren’t very familiar with the game, due to not really being exposed to it. In spite of the laws against it though, Iran does have an underground live poker scene, although it’s not all that significant, and underground gambling in general in Iran is not seen as much of a problem.
If you’re caught playing poker for money here or engaging in any other form of gambling, you face up to 74 lashes or imprisonment for up to 6 months, and if the gambling is done in public, both punishments are carried out. As well, if you operate a gambling establishment you can spend up to 2 years in prison. So this likely does affect how willing people are to engage in land based gambling at least. (6)
Online Poker In Iran
Iranian residents have been known to travel to neighboring countries to engage in gambling though, where the laws may be more liberal towards it. Other than that, there’s ample opportunity to play poker online in Iran, and the government does not perceive this as a big enough problem to take any action to limit people’s access to these sites, probably believing that their religious beliefs will be enough generally to keep this in check.
That’s probably true with a lot of people but in a country as large as Iran, a country with around 80 million people, there is still a fair bit of interest in gambling, and now that the internet has made gambling far more accessible than it has been in the past, going from being able to access virtually no gambling apart from the approved forms to all the gambling you could ever wish for through online access, this has certainly changed the scene here.
Iran is one of the countries that has been caught up in the movement away from so called grey market countries, and Iran is certainly grey market, and this has caused several major poker rooms, including PokerStars, to cease accepting Iranians.
This doesn’t mean that all of the online poker sites have pulled out though, and there are several that simply don’t care about any of this stuff and will take players from pretty much anywhere, including Iran.
So online poker may not be a very popular pastime at present, but as more people become exposed to the game, which is a very slow process since most Iranians have not even played poker for fun let alone for money, the game may continue to grow at least somewhat.
Two of my favorite poker sites that accept Iranian players are 888 Poker and Natural8 Gaming. You can check out the reviews at the very top of this page for more information. BOTH offer nice rakeback deals just for signing up and have TONS of shared Asian and Euro traffic that keep cash games very, very loose and fishy.
So it’s clearly illegal to play poker for money here and that includes playing online as well, although the authorities here appear to be less concerned about what goes on in private. For instance, drinking alcohol in public in Iran will get you jail time, but drinking it in secret is not a crime.
It doesn’t get any more secret than playing online poker at home, this is not something you probably want to do on your phone in public, but online poker at home is already well beyond the reach of the law anyway generally, as it’s extremely difficult to catch people doing this.
So people in the most conservative countries play online poker, and Iran is no exception, and there are some options available to those who wish to do so.