Gambling is very popular in Belarus and they are even known as gambling hub of Eastern Europe. There are currently 47 different land-based casinos in Belarus, and they cater to both Belorussians and tourists who come over from Russia where land based gambling is far less available. (1)
In addition to the casinos, there are almost 300 gambling halls located around the country, so it’s very easy to find somewhere to gamble at in Belarus, and gambling is openly and widely accepted here, at least land based gambling is.
It’s not hard at all to find somewhere to play live poker either, and many of the casinos offer it. Cash games range from $0.50/$1 to $10/$20 and above, so the action caters to those with smaller and larger bankrolls alike. You don’t really see very small stakes poker offered at live poker games due to the cost of running the game and the little amount of rake that very small stakes games generate, and this is one of the benefits of online poker, since it costs so little to run poker tables and this makes even the smallest stakes viable.
Almost all of the live poker action is in the Minsk area, the capital of Belarus, where almost all of the casinos are, and Minsk residents in particular have no trouble at all playing all of the live poker they desire. There are a few other locations in other areas of the country but the availability of live poker is quite a bit more limited.
There are also regular gambling junkets that regularly bring players in from Moscow and these players tend to be more casual poker players who can be made to part with their money easier than your typical regular. Minsk is considered by many to be the Las Vegas of Eastern Europe and is certainly popular as a gambling tourist destination.
Most of the focus here is on cash poker although they do offer tournaments as well, although tournament poker plays a lesser role here than you see generally with real money poker. Minsk also hosts a stop on the Russian Poker Tour which helps to generate interest in poker in the country.
Overall, gambling is very popular in Belarus, as is poker, and there’s no need to go looking for an underground club to gamble here because it’s all above ground and legal.
Belarus’ Heavy Handed Approach To The Internet
As permissive as Belarus is toward land based gambling, we would expect that this would be one country that would also openly accept online gambling as well, or at least have some plan in place to promote it and collect some extra tax revenue from it.
A lot of countries take a dim view toward gambling and may restrict it on that basis, whether they consider it morally wrong or creating social problems such as addiction or people blowing too much of their paychecks on it, providing a means for money laundering, or other such concerns.
In Belarus, it’s not a matter of the gambling itself being seen as a problem, it’s more that they see the internet itself as being an evil and they have some extremely restrictive laws governing the internet itself.
So that’s really what’s behind the fact that online gambling is illegal in Belarus. It isn’t even that online gambling in particular is illegal, but Belarus does not have any domestic online gambling sites at this time, so to play you have to go to a site outside Belarus.
It is against the law for Belarus residents to visit websites not hosted in Belarus though, and this is the means by which gambling online is therefore illegal as well.
If someone is caught merely visiting a .com site or a .eu site or anything other than a .by website they can be fined, up to a million Belarus rubles, about $65. This might not seem like that big of a fine but that’s about a week’s wages for the average Belorussian. (3)
Of course that’s the maximum fine and that doesn’t mean that this will always be the fine that’s levied, although the intent here is likely to scare people and hope they will comply on that basis.
Online Poker In Belarus
It is certainly true that the government of Belarus wants to protect their monopoly on gambling, and also certainly won’t be relaxing their severe restrictions on internet use to accommodate offshore gambling sites that they have no interest in promoting and who would compete with the land based gambling that they get tax revenue from.
However, it’s not that residents of Belarus are blocked from accessing offshore gambling, it’s that they aren’t “legally” permitted to do so – and that’s being pretty loose with that word. So this means that in order for this law to be enforced they would need to have a good way to catch people doing it, and in this case it is possible in theory for the authorities to seize records from internet providers and pore through them to see if anyone was breaking the law, but this would require a huge amount of resources and it’s pretty much certain that law enforcement officials have much better ways to spend their time than this, even if they did have the extra resources to pull it off effectively.
So while we can be sure that there are some poker players who don’t bother playing online because they are concerned about this law, for practical purposes it’s very unlikely that anyone is going to be busted for playing online poker, and the Russians are even more adamant that no one play online and have taken more extreme measures to prevent it, but it’s not really going away and players continue to play on.
As far as regulated poker goes, the Belarus government is in the process of trying to put together a workable scheme, although it’s too early to tell what this would look like exactly, but they are enticed by the prospect of the additional tax revenue from gambling that this would provide. (4)
We’ll have to see how that evolves but it’s likely we will see this implemented in the near future.
(1) Belarus Casinos
(2) Poker in Belarus
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