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Back in the days of the Soviet Union, gambling was pretty much prohibited, and so when the Soviet Union broke up, and they were no longer controlled by the communist government in Moscow that viewed gambling as being too capitalistic, many new republics warmly embraced gambling, and many have legalized gambling today.
This is not the case in Uzbekistan though, and they actually ended up going the other way, becoming even more restrictive towards gambling. In 2002, they even outlawed billiards, due to it sometimes being played for money, and that was enough to want them to make it against the law to play at all. (1)
The Uzbekistan government feels that gambling does not correspond to the spirit of the Uzbekistan people, and that it also leads to crime, so they use this as the main basis for it being outlawed here.
Whether or not it corresponds to the spirit of the people here is just a matter of seeing if there is any popularity with it in this country, and there are at least some people in this country who find it corresponds with their spirit rather nicely, and therefore wish to partake in it.
When you really boil this down, what this may mean is that they feel that some Uzbeks do not like to gamble, so none should be allowed to. As far as this leading to crime, the best way to do that is actually to make it illegal, as this certainly ensures that it will be given completely over to criminal elements, at least the land based gambling, and therefore not decrease crime, but instead increase it.
Up to 2007 though it was still legal to gamble in certain slot halls, even though you could no longer play billiards, and for whatever reason this form of gambling did linger on, although they eventually made these slot halls illegal as well.
Nowadays, all forms of gambling are prohibited in Uzbekistan, including all forms of online gambling. So what they’ve done is go from the very limited gambling that was tolerated by the authorities during their period of Soviet rule and get rid of all of them, at least the legal ones or the ones that the authorities were prepared to look the other way with, and all of the gambling here is now of the illegal variety.
Making gambling illegal doesn’t stop it though, it just drives it underground. In spite of some harsh penalties such as up to 5 years imprisonment for operating a gambling facility, it still goes on here. (2)
Playing Poker in Uzbekistan
There are no casinos here, no poker rooms, and no places to gamble legally at all. Poker is pretty popular here though, and before the complete crackdown on gambling, poker was actually the most popular game in the country. (3)
The fact that there’s nowhere to play legal poker anymore did cut down on the legal poker playing of course, the stuff that can be tracked, but poker remains very popular here, although if you want to play live poker you’re going to have to play it in an illegal game.
This crackdown did coincide with the emergence of online poker though and this remains an easy option for Uzbek poker players, and many take advantage of this channel to play their favorite game.
There has been a movement among poker sites to stop offering online poker to players in certain countries, due to either worrying about it being too much of a grey market or too much of a dead market, but Uzbekistan isn’t on this list, at least not at the present time anyway.
This is in spite of the government’s opposition to gambling which is as firm as you will ever see. These decisions likely take the value of a country’s online poker market into account as well, and the sheer popularity of poker in Uzbekistan may have a favorable impact upon these decisions.
Despite its impressive natural resources, Uzbekistan isn’t one of the wealthier countries in Asia, although it’s certainly not the poorest, but they do still have some issues with a lack of infrastructure, which has effected the number of people with internet access, but this has really improved over the last few years. (4)
So while there was only 1.8 million people who had internet access in a country off about 30 million people, by 2012 this number had already grown to 9 million, and will likely continue to grow in the coming years.
Greater access to the internet of course means greater access to online poker, so this market is already pretty good and can be expected to grow even more.
Like many former Soviet Republics, they do have a number of “interactive clubs” which are places that you can gamble online, and this did provide access to online gambling for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to play, but the government continues to look to shut down these operations, and it’s far preferable to play poker online in the comfort and security of your own home. (5)
So many players do play online poker here, and can play at some of the world’s top online poker sites, in spite of what their government may want.
It is said to be unlikely that the laws or the views on gambling will change and progress in Uzbekistan anytime soon, but thankfully technology has provided a nice solution to this problem for those who still wish to gamble and play poker in particular.