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Kyrgyzstan has been around for over 2000 years, but they have had a long history of being ruled by others and their first shot at independence ever came after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, there’s been quite a bit of upheaval here, particularly driven by ethnic fighting. (1)
So this hasn’t produced the most stable climate for the proliferation of gambling, which hasn’t been very stable either. In spite of this being a predominantly Muslim country, gambling is extremely popular in Kyrgyzstan, but in spite of this, Parliament passed a law in 2012 looking to shut down the huge amount of casinos and gambling halls in the country. (2)
Prior to this, in spite of having some legal gambling venues, underground gambling was rampant and in the years leading up to the prohibition, there was a war going on between gambling operators and authorities, who regularly shut down these black market establishments, however their best efforts were not enough, so they decided to just ban them all.
Kyrgyzstan is said to have a very large number of problem gamblers in proportion to their population, and this was no doubt behind the government’s efforts to crack down on the amount of gambling going on in their country.
In the city of Osh alone, which has a population of only about 250,000, there were said to be over 500 gambling halls, both legal and illegal, prior to the new law. Most countries do not have this many places to gamble, so this alone shows that Kyrgyz sure love to gamble. (3)
So if you guessed that this new law didn’t get rid of gambling in Kyrgyzstan, you’d be absolutely right, and as is the case with some other countries where the will to gamble is strong, people will still gamble regardless of what the law says.
When you add in the fact that this country had a huge underground gambling scene even when they did have legal gambling establishments, all that has happened is that the legal operators got driven out and the illegal ones were surely more than happy to take up the slack.
So this law was put into place, and by all accounts it is said to have failed miserably, and the amount of gambling since then has increased, not decreased. There is also accusations of corruption floating around, including even some illegal gambling establishments being owned by members of Parliament, the very group that outlawed this.
Sports betting is particularly big here and they have both a lot of live betting shops and some online sites as well run out of the country, and none of this even slowed down with the passing of the new law making all of this illegal.
So there’s now some serious talk within the Kyrgyzstan government to look to legalize things again and at least reap some revenue from all of this, instead of having it all illegal and outside their taxation domain.
Back when it was legal, gambling proceeds were subject to a 70% income tax rate, which is one of the big reasons why most of it was underground. The money you make from illegal gambling though is tax free, so if they ever want to really make this all work, they will have to come up with a more reasonable tax structure. (5)
Playing Poker In Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan gamblers also like to play poker, and poker is actually considered somewhat of a sport here. They even have a special poker club which is set up to train Kyrgyz players to compete on the international poker scene. In spite of seeing it as a sport though, the new law does consider it to be gambling nonetheless, and therefore it isn’t legal to play real money poker here. (6)
So the authorities, for whatever reason, haven’t made much progress in shutting down or even containing the rampant casino gambling and sports betting that goes on here, so people who wish to play live poker can probably find an underground game without much difficulty, although these poker rooms obviously aren’t advertised publicly.
While Kyrgyzstan does have some online sports betting sites, there aren’t any online poker sites operated out of this country, but even if there were, players here would certainly prefer to play at international online sites such as PokerStars, and Kyrgyz players are very well represented at Poker Stars in particular, which is the favorite among players from here, like it is everywhere else.
Kyrgyz players haven’t made the big splash on the world poker scene that a lot of people here are looking to see, but they do have a stable of some very good players who have done well in regional tournaments and it’s probably just a matter of time before some do hit the big time, and this will only help promote the game of poker in this country, legal or not.
In spite of poker not being legal here, this is not one of the countries considered to be a gray market area, and online poker sites are eager to take Kyrgyz players. This rule seems to apply to countries that not only ban poker but don’t have a lot of poker players either, where it’s probably not seen as worth it to continue marketing there, but this isn’t the case in this country, as they have a lot of online poker players.
The only drawback to online poker here is that no sites offer play in the Kyrgyz language, so players need to learn enough of another language to be able to play, but one does not need to know that much about a language to figure out how to play at an online poker site, and this hasn’t stopped a great many Kyrgyz players from playing their favorite game.
In spite of the talk of reforming the gambling laws here, there isn’t any talk of regulating online gambling, and if they were to do that, they would first look to regulate the existing online sports betting sites they have before they even looked at poker.
So for now players simply play wherever they want and the fact that it’s against the law doesn’t seem to bother anyone, and while this might worry land based gamblers a bit, it’s a whole different story when you’re playing in the comfort and security of your own home, so more and more Kyrgyz are choosing to play online poker these days, and it will probably continue to grow here.