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In spite of being a Muslim country, Iraq takes a very permissive approach to gambling, and it is fully legal here, and you can gamble on whatever you want, not just on horse racing like in some Muslim countries, which are against gambling generally but see the Holy Quran as allowing certain types of horse racing.
Iraq though does not make gambling illegal at all and it’s wide open here actually. There used to be several casinos here at one time but most of them ended up closing due to all the unrest and upheaval that has gone on in this country, but there is one still operating in Iraq at present, in the city of Sulaimaniya, in the northern Kurdish region. (1)
This isn’t exactly a hot tourist spot though and many of the patrons arrive armed and there is an area out front where they may check their AK-47’s and retrieve them once they are finished gambling, which gives you the idea that this isn’t the safest place to be.
People don’t generally go to Iraq on vacation, and especially may be wary of the Kurdish region, but the Kurds have worked hard to make their area of the country a more popular tourist destination, and now bring in a surprising $1 billion a year in tourism, and expect to quadruple that in the coming years. So more casinos may be on the way here a little down the road. (2)
Cock and dog fighting is very popular here, and Iraq is somewhat infamous for this, raising the ire of people in other countries. It’s widely accepted here though and since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, this has become even more popular, as has gambling in Iraq in general. (3)
Betting on horse racing is also popular here, although there are not a lot of racetracks to bet at. Gambling in Iraq would almost certainly be more popular if they had a better gambling infrastructure so to speak, which may improve if the country can become more stable and more developed in the coming years.
Camel racing is also a popular sport here, and they have even evolved it to incorporate robot jockeys which sit atop the camels and are operated by remote control
Internet gambling is legal as well, although not a lot of Iraqis partake in it. This may partly be to the fact that people in this country do not have the same level of internet access as people in many other countries, with only 7.1% of the Iraqi population being able to go online. (4)
Playing Poker in Iraq
While Iraqis do like to gamble, gambling games such as casino games, sports betting, and poker, that are very popular elsewhere, simply are not as popular here. Poker isn’t really that ingrained in Iraqi culture, and there are no live poker rooms here, and while residents can play at whatever online poker sites they wish, few Iraqis do.
There aren’t many professional poker players from Iraq, and when you look at the all time money list from live events, there’s only 11 players in total on it, and the top player, Mohamed Namir, only has career winnings of $110, 710, and the 11th place player has only won $301 lifetime. (5)
So this certainly isn’t going to drive poker popularity like top pros in other countries often do, and poker really isn’t a factor in Iraqi life and culture at all. This may not change for a long time either, we’ve already seen the big worldwide poker boom and Iraq was left behind by it, and this isn’t a matter of the government not permitting it either, it’s simply that the interest in the game is so low.
To make matters worse, some large online poker rooms such as PokerStars and Full Tilt have withdrawn from the Iraqi market, as well as from a number of other countries, and the reasons given have been commercial opportunities and business risks.
In some countries, business risks may drive this, as they may worry about the legality of offering poker in certain countries, but given that poker is fully legal in Iraq, that isn’t the reason here. Rather, it is probably due to the very low popularity of poker here, not making it worthwhile for these poker rooms to bother taking players from these countries. (6)
There are still poker sites that do take Iraqi players, and players here don’t have any trouble playing all of the online poker that they want, provided they do want, and not that many people do want this though, which is clearly the limiting factor for this online poker market.