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In spite of Pakistan being a Muslim country, and one that has some very conservative laws towards gambling, they actually do have some forms of legal gambling here.
For instance, they allow betting on horse races, based upon a particular interpretation of Islamic law. So if there is more than one competitor and a prize is offered to the winner, then betting on the race is allowed. Iran also uses this interpretation to allow horse race betting in their country as well. (1)
They also have a type of lottery there known as prize bonds, which are like savings accounts but instead of paying interest they provide the opportunity for the holders to win prizes, and some pretty big ones at that.
So these forms of betting are legal in Pakistan, however, other forms are not legal. The laws here though, with the current one being passed in 1977, are geared toward live gambling though, or it would appear anyway, for instance laws against keeping a gaming house, or to be present in one while betting is taking place, or of course to engage in the betting yourself. (2)
This law was followed up with an amendment a year later, which made the punishments for participating in illegal gambling harsher, with penalties of up to 5 years imprisonment merely for found to be engaging in betting.
These anti gambling laws were written at a time long before online gambling surfaced, so some have assumed that it does not apply to online gambling, and only applies to gambling in a gaming house. This hasn’t proved out to be the case though, and the courts in Pakistan have interpreted the existing law to apply to betting within Pakistan in general, regardless of whether the bets are placed through international sites, as there are no Pakistani online gambling sites.
How they get around this is their view that playing online is seen as operating a gambling den or gaming house, and such, bettors are exposed to the existing law in spite of it written well before the internet existed. (3)
People actually do get arrested here for gambling online, although it’s said that the few that do are not careful enough, but this also shows that the authorities here are very serious as far as enforcement goes and anti online gambling actions are not just on paper to put on a front.
In addition, the government does block IP addresses of online gambling sites, although it’s not said to be very widespread, and given that the crackdown here is targeted at sports betting, and in particular, betting on cricket matches, a sport that is very big in Pakistan, poker sites aren’t really targeted as of yet. (4)
Poker in Pakistan
Poker hasn’t achieved much popularity at all in Pakistan. There are a couple of famous professional poker players from here, Hassan Habib, a regular on the World Poker Tour, and Owais Ahmed, who won a gold bracelet at the 2011 World Series of Poker. (5)
This hasn’t done much to promote the game in Pakistan though, and Pakistanis aren’t very well represented at all on the online poker scene, especially considering the size of the country, with over 190 million people. It’s not that gambling is all that popular here either, it’s more like a fringe thing than anything, and those on the fringe simply choose other forms of betting to gamble, and poker simply isn’t a big part of Pakistani culture yet, as it is on other countries where poker has received far more exposure.
So there is no live poker in this country, and poker players here must turn to the internet to play. There is underground gambling here but it is restricted to bookie action on sports betting, who are known to take land based bets from sports bettors. (6)
Even though poker sites aren’t generally blocked here, and the government is much more concerned with going after sports betting, it is probably wise to connect to gambling sites through a VPN, or virtual private network, then it is to connect directly.
People in Pakistan who want to play online poker might even want to use a VPN to play as well, to remove any trace of their connecting to a poker site internet address, as VPNs provide anonymity, where you simply connect to the network, another internet site, and then connect to other sites through their servers, behind the curtain so to speak.
Poker players from Pakistan do face some minor challenges as far as moving money in and out of online poker sites, although there are some fairly easy options available, such as Skrill, in addition to some other options. You can’t just use your bank account though as you can in a lot of countries and that would probably be a bad idea anyway as it does pay to be more cautious than that here.
The Future of Poker In Pakistan
Poker has been very popular for quite a few years now, globally speaking anyway, and it is true that its popularity is still growing in many regions of the world. The growth in Pakistan though has been very muted, and given that this isn’t really part of the culture here, the government is opposed to it, it’s against the law to play for money, and no one is really promoting it here, that’s not likely to change in the near future.
The internet though does spread things in a way that we never have seen though, so over time, poker might end up catching on here, although probably very slowly. With almost the entire country being Muslim, and the fact that Muslims don’t tend to gamble that much anyway, and those who do are betting on cricket and such, these excursions likely do involve a tipping point of sorts, where their desire to bet exceeds their concerns and maybe even their beliefs.
So in those terms the bar is probably set higher for poker than it is for cricket for instance, given that cricket is such a loved game here and poker really isn’t yet. As more people become familiar with poker though that could end up changing in time.
The government isn’t about to make poker playing legal anytime soon though, and far from it, so whatever growth we do see is going to have to be earned in the face of strong government opposition.
Those in Pakistan who do enjoy poker though still can play the game at international poker sites though, and for those who really enjoy poker, they are often eager to do so in spite of what the law may say about it.