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Azerbaijan is a fairly conservative country and has generally been fairly prohibitive of gambling. The people of Azerbaijan have been less reluctant to gamble though, and have a pretty good appetite toward it, and when there is an appetite then someone usually steps up to satisfy it, and as is often the case, when the people want something and the government forbids it, the people usually get what they want in the end through the black market.
So black market gambling has historically played a big role in the Azerbaijani gambling market, which continues on today. Gambling was totally banned here in this country at one point, although in 1992 the government did pass a law allowing for the licensing of land based casinos. (1)
A few small casinos opened up at this time, and the land based casino business at least had a presence in Azerbaijan for a number of years, but in 1998 they were shut down by the president after his son lost $6 million at a Turkish casino, and he ended up taking it out on the Azerbaijani people by banning casinos due to their now being seen as violating the country’s “moral principles.”
So to this day land based casinos in Azerbaijan are no more, although in 2001 the country did create a state run lottery where citizens can now gamble at, which also led to the state running a sports betting operation as well, and both continue on today. So it seems that they had rethought the moral acceptability of gambling, although perhaps casino gambling, which includes poker, is seen as more morally reprehensible, making the state still unwilling to approve them. (2)
Legal gambling in Azerbaijan is restricted to these two forms, and there is no casino or poker offered officially in the country either on land or online. There are also no plans to do so at this time or is there even any speculation when this might ever happen.
State run betting pools on sports have done quite well here though, and it may just be a matter of time before the country turns its eye toward other forms of gambling, at least in terms of seeing some benefit from this. This does presently attract the attention of government officials but it is only with a bent towards trying to restrict it, by trying to limit players’ access to online gambling, and this is seen as being black market activities the same way as land based black market gambling is.
The Current Situation In Azerbaijan
The people in Azerbaijan do enjoy other forms of gambling besides betting on sports and playing the lottery, in spite of the popularity of these two forms. There is a big interest in online poker in particular, and there is little to stop Azerbaijanis from playing online, as is the case pretty much everywhere these days.
The internet, in effect, has served as a way for players to operate outside the laws of the jurisdiction they live in, and whether online poker is legal or not, it’s simply the case that very little can be done to stop it or even slow it down, since it does take place essentially outside the country, with the internet serving as a sort of portal where players get electronically transported to other locales where they can play all they want free from government restrictions or oversight.
Governments can seek to ban certain websites or place restrictions on financial transactions, but players who want to play can fairly easily find a way to do so, and this is indeed the case for Azerbaijani players as well.
It is true though that the Azerbaijani government isn’t taking this all lying down, and is considering toughening up the measures against both black market gambling operators and players, involving imprisoning gambling operators for up to 6 years and hitting players with fines of up to $800. (3)
These contemplated changes to the criminal code are pretty much aimed at operators though, although if you’re caught playing at a land based illegal gambling venue, you could be fined.
If you operate an online gambling site and are located in Azerbaijan, and get caught doing it, you could face prison time, but the truth is that it’s pretty much impossible to catch someone gambling online, and while it’s already a criminal offense in many areas of the world to gamble online, no one is being charged because no one is being caught.
The Future Of Poker In Azerbaijan
So we may see a crackdown on illegal gambling in Azerbaijan, but this will almost certainly have little effect on the online gambling scene from the perspective of players, since the poker sites that players play on are located in other countries where it is legal for them to offer their services, and since it’s legal there, they can offer it to whomever they please and don’t care at all about what the law may be in Azerbaijan or anywhere else.
Azerbaijan does offer online sports betting though and it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch to expand this to online poker, given its popularity in the country. There’s almost 10 million people that live here, almost as many people as live in Belgium, and Belgium has managed to put together a very nice regulatory framework for online poker that is the envy of the regulated online poker world right now and doesn’t restrict players to just playing against fellow countrymen, a big criticism of many regulatory schemes in place right now.
Belgium is generally regarded as a more progressive country than Azerbaijan though, so it will probably take several years at least for the Azerbaijani government to have their minds opened enough to both want this and have the ability to pull it off, but it’s certainly possible at some point. It was hard to imagine their getting behind online sports betting that long ago for instance, so things can change and they don’t necessarily need to take forever.
In the mean time, the best online poker sites in the world are ready and willing to allow Azerbaijani players to play online poker to their heart’s content right now, so it’s not that change is even really needed right now, at least from the perspective of players anyway.