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Turkmenistan has had legal gambling ever since it achieved its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. However, this isn’t the wealthiest country in Asia by any means, with a nominal per capita GDP of only a little over $8000. This is the average though, and while this country has the fourth highest natural gas reserves in the world, this doesn’t mean that the wealth is evenly distributed.
So the average monthly wage here is less than $200, which certainly isn’t a lot. There are poorer countries in the world but Turkmenistan is certainly well below average. (1)
Turkmenistan is a predominantly Muslim country, where Muslims comprise 89% of the population, and Muslim countries don’t generally allow much gambling, let alone have casinos, but Turkmenistan does have 2 casinos, both located in the capital city of Ashgabat, although these casinos are both on the smaller side, with only a total of 130 slot machines and 14 gaming tables combined. (2)
The Grand Casino is by far the larger of the two, with the Hotel Ak-Altyn Casino being a lot more modest. The casinos do attract a fair number of tourists from neighboring countries, some of which do not have any casinos themselves, and there is at least talk of expanding the number of casinos here one day to try to attract even more of these tourists.
Casino gambling is legal here then, and residents as well as tourists are allowed to gamble at them, but curiously enough, legal gambling here is restricted to these two casinos only. They do have horse racing here, but it is not legal to bet on the races, nor is any other form of gambling allowed, at least live gambling at live venues. (3)
There is said to be some underground casinos here, but as is often the case with underground casinos, they can be dangerous and people are warned to be very cautious or even stay away from them. (4) If they ever expand the casino business to other regions of the country though, besides the capital, this will at least give more Turkmen access to legal gambling.
For the time being they are content with these two casinos and there are no concrete plans at the present time to expand this, although there is at least some talk of doing so, although this may end up being years away.
Playing Poker In Turkmenistan
The two casinos in Turkmenistan both feature live poker tables, with 3 tables at the Grand Casino and 2 poker tables at the Hotel Ak-Altyn Casino. So this at least gives people in Ashgabat, or people who are willing to travel there, access to some live poker action.
It’s not known whether there are many home poker games here, and if there is, people aren’t talking about them, but with the internet, at least players who do have access to it can play at, which includes any online poker site they wish to play at, as all of the major poker rooms accept players from Turkmenistan.
While none of them offer play in the Turkmen language, many Turkmen speak Russian, which is a language that is readily available at online poker sites. Many Turkmen poker players have taken to online poker, and while the number isn’t that great, they have at least made a splash on the scene thus far.
The big problem here, other the fact that a lot of people in Turkmenistan don’t have much disposable income, is that a lot of people in this country do not have access to the internet. Turkmenistan is the least developed of the CIS countries when it comes to telecommunications, and the minority of the population who do have the internet also have to deal with the fact that the government here is well known to snoop on the internet activities of its residents. (5)
Even sites mentioning gambling are blocked by the government here, and anyone who wishes to gamble online must connect to these sites by way of a virtual private network, or VPN, which provides anonymity as far as what sites are connected to once on the network.
There are plans on expanding both the quality and the availability of the internet in Turkmenistan, and the quality now certainly needs improvement as well, as connections are slow and unreliable. So this is set to improve in the coming years, although a lot of people aren’t familiar with the workarounds to government sponsored internet censorship so this will likely continue to be a limiting factor for online poker here.
Still though, there are a fair number of online poker players from here, and the government can only go so far to keep people from playing it, and people will just find a way to do it if they really want to, regardless, as the people of Turkmenistan indeed do.