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Gambling in Armenia under Soviet control used to be limited to betting on horses and playing the lottery, and of course gambling off the grid on the black market. This was actually pretty permissive as far as Soviet republics go, so when the Soviets were no longer around, the penchant for gambling that Armenians have was let loose so to speak, and saw rapid expansion. (1)
Gambling is a very popular pastime in Armenia, while there aren’t a lot of casinos, with only 4 large casinos in the country so far (2), these casinos are not geared primarily to tourists like you see in some other countries, as they are frequented mostly by Armenians themselves, even by those of relatively little means.
Aside from these four large casinos, there are hundreds of other places in the country where residents can place bets on casino games, sports, bingo, and the lottery. Just in the Yerevan area there is one large casino, 9 smaller casinos, and about 100 gaming parlors offering games of chance as well. (3) It’s fair to say that the market penetration here is pretty broad indeed.
In spite of being one of the poorer countries in Europe, gambling is very popular here, and so much that government officials are very concerned about problem gambling, and in particular the amount of suicides that have been associated with it.
In addition, politicians are becoming more and more concerned that gambling is causing the poor to get even poorer, and that does seem to happen in this country quite a bit. Many families are finding themselves in even greater hardship from spending too much of their already meager incomes on gambling.
So some new rules are being considered, for instance limiting the age to gamble to those 21 and over, and to also allow the courts to ban players who have shown that they have gotten themselves and their families into undue hardship as a result of their gambling activities.
There is also a movement to look to segregate the large casinos away from the major population and limit them to tourist areas only. If the casino is large enough though, in other words if enough money is spent on building it, then it can be deemed exempt from this rule, and that’s what casino owner and Armenian politician Gagik Tsarukyan is counting on, as he prepares to build his second large casino in the Yarevan area, the country’s capital and largest city. (4)
About 1 in 3 Armenians live in Yareven, so this is where the action is, and a lot of Armenians find the draw of big fancy casinos akin to a fantasy, and these casinos are very popular. So this does fly in the face of the government’s intentions but on the other hand the allure of gambling related tax revenue does play a role in all of this as well.
The lottery is also very popular here, and a lot of Armenians have mobile phones, two thirds of the population in fact, a pretty high number for a country of such modest means, and the lottery in Armenia accepts SMS betting, which many players take advantage of.
It will suffice to say that gambling is very ingrained in Armenian culture, more so than in a lot of countries in the world, and regardless of any new laws that are passed here this will very likely remain the case. Unless they ban gambling altogether, which they certainly are not looking to do, Armenians will continue to gamble, and they will continue to do a lot of gambling.
Poker In Armenia
There is only one casino that offers live poker in Armenia, and that is the Poker Club in Yerevan, part of the Shangri-La Casino. It only offers two poker tables in total though, so there’s not a lot of live casino poker action in this country. (5)
In spite of this, Armenia does have its own government sanctioned poker advocacy group, the Armenia Poker Federation, which seeks to promote poker in Armenia as an intellectual sport and also seek to organize poker tournaments. (6)
Poker in Armenia takes place almost exclusively online these days, and although Armenia does not have regulated poker at this time, players are free to play all they want at foreign based poker sites. While there are none in the Armenian language, most Armenians speak Russian and it’s easy to find poker sites that offer online poker in the Russian language.
So unlike in a lot of other countries in Europe where the government has either passed laws regulating online poker sites, or has sought to restrict access to playing it, the Armenian government has taken a hands off approach so far, and do not appear to be interested in either organizing and regulating online poker nor limiting its residents to access to it.
In spite of the Armenian government’s concern with problem gambling, and their looking to restrict at least somewhat access to it as far as land based gambling goes, this hasn’t spilled over to online gambling and especially not to poker, which is seen as at least a sort of sport at in this country. There is even an Armenian poker team which competes against poker teams from other countries for glory and bragging rights.
So access to online poker, and full access to it, seems to be pretty safe in Armenia these days. Of course that is subject to change as time goes on, but when you have a country that loves to gamble as much as Armenians do, and you even have a casino owner as the leader of a major political party, even though there are concerns here about problem gambling, the solutions do not involve getting rid of gambling itself, but merely trying to discourage it a little.
So while a few people want to take the lead from Russia and segregate gambling to specific areas, and that might indeed happen some day, the anti gambling side has far less power than they do in Russia, and it’s even less likely that they will see online access to gambling and especially to poker as something they need to step in and curtail. Gambling is just too big here to imagine that happening.
(5) Poker Club