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Nepal is not only famous for Mount Everest, it’s also well known for it’s gambling, and is known as the oldest gambling capital in South Asia. Gambling has a long tradition here and has been historically very popular. At one time they had the only legal gambling between Monaco and Macau and was a real gambling hub.
However, things started to turn around in 1977 when the Gambling Act was passed, licensing gambling establishments but also banning locals from playing in the casinos, although they certainly did attract a lot of gambling tourists, particularly from India. (1)
In spite of gambling being popular here, many in Nepal consider it to be taboo, and they have struggled to see it gain enough widespread acceptance, and those who opposed it tended to strongly oppose it.
After the communists took over, they went even further and banned all forms of gambling for the Nepalese. This ended up driving all of the gambling by Nepalese underground, and in spite of frequent police raids and people being thrown in jail for being caught gambling, there still is a fair bit of underground gambling that goes on in this country. (2)
Eventually the crackdown by the government became extended to the casinos as well, and a battle ensued starting back in 2011 where they tried to shut the casinos down, and this went on for several years with many threats and ultimatums being issued and most of them actually being made to close down for a time, and at one point only a single casino stood still running in Kathmandu. (3)
The dispute here wasn’t so much that casinos should not be allowed here, and while they don’t want their own people gambling there, the government doesn’t seem to mind foreign tourists gambling in their country, as long as the tax money keeps flowing, and it was money and not principles that caused this rift, with the authorities claiming that the casinos weren’t kicking in the proper amount to them.
They did try to create the impression that they were looking to shut these casinos down because they contributed to the illegal gambling in the country, but the real reason was well known to be monetary, and this is the main reason why they were generally just looking to threaten them, they still wanted the revenue, they just wanted more.
This has all for the most part being resolved, and 7 of the original 8 casinos in Nepal are back up and running, and they are even planning another one to be built, to bring the total back to 8. At the same time this was approved, police raided a monastery for running an illegal gambling operation, where Nepalese patrons were found to be playing cards for money.
So this brings to light the dichotomy in this country when it comes to gambling, where it’s perfectly fine for tourists to gamble all they want, but leaving their own people out in the cold. They aren’t the only country in Asia to do this, by any means, but what tends to happen is that the people gamble anyway, and that’s the case in Nepal as well.
Playing Poker in Nepal
If you are a tourist in Kathmandu and are looking to play some poker, they do have 2 poker rooms here, the Casino Anna Poker Room and the Casino Nepal Poker Room, both very small, with a total of 6 live poker tables in the country. (5)
If you are from Nepal though, well they don’t allow you in the casinos at all, so legal live poker isn’t an option here.
Poker isn’t known to be particularly popular in this country, although you may be able to find a game at one of the underground gambling dens, although you do risk arrest and jail time if you get caught. These underground gambling dens are also known to be pretty dangerous, and it’s not just the police you have to worry about as people have been robbed and even murdered at these locations, so a much safer bet is to play poker online instead. (6)
Nepal, like many Asian countries, doesn’t have quite the widespread internet access that a lot of Western countries have these days, although things are improving here and a third of the population now has access. (7)
Nepal, like many Asian countries, does have quite a few internet cafes though where people who do not otherwise have access to the internet or simply like to go online in a more social setting have been known to gamble and play poker online at these cafes.
There doesn’t seem to be any specific law prohibiting online gambling either for tourists or for locals here, although it isn’t sanctioned either. Nepal hasn’t done anything with regulating or prohibiting online gambling specifically, including looking to block people’s access either, so people here do play poker online, not that governments have been very successful anywhere in stopping people from doing this, even with their best efforts.
Since the gambling sites and online poker sites that Nepalese play at aren’t located in Nepal, some may even claim that the actual gambling and poker playing doesn’t even occur in Nepal, but instead on a server outside the country, in spite of people accessing this server from a computer within the country.
So this is one of the reasons why online gambling law and online poker law can be somewhat of a grey area, especially without specific laws prohibiting it, but in any case, the big thing here is that if you play online poker from the comfort and privacy of your own home, it’s pretty much impossible to catch you, and all they really can do is try to keep you from accessing these foreign sites that offer it.
So online poker in Nepal certainly isn’t wildly popular by any means, this country is far from a hotbed of poker in general and even with people’s at least decent appetite for gambling and the opportunity to do so safely on the internet, casino and sports betting remain the predominant games of choice here.
Still though, Nepal does have its poker fans, and due to the wonders of technology, they now have ample opportunity to play the game, in spite of what their government or others may think.