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Although Cyprus is a single country, it does have two distinct areas, the Turkish northern section and the Greek southern section of the island nation. These two areas do differ significantly in their approach and views on gambling, with the Turkish section being very permissive toward it, while the Greek area does not see it in anywhere near as favorable of a light.
So this island country is certainly divided up into these two areas, and they even have a UN buffer zone between them, so that tells you all you need to know really about how this isn’t exactly an integrated political structure like you see in most countries, or merely two provinces within a country. (1)
So this does complicate things in Cyprus, and things do tend to be more complex in Cyprus than you typically see in countries, and in a real sense we could be talking about two separate countries here, and spite of the fact that there is supposed to be a single government overseeing the entire country, there still is quite a bit of division here and this has spilled over to gambling as well.
So while gambling has proliferated in Cyprus, the southern Greek area ended up with much stricter laws toward it, but Cyprus is not a large island, so people from the South just travel a little north to enjoy the casino action up there, where gambling is much more readily available.
So all this ended up doing is to regionalize gambling in Cyprus to a large degree, at least where land based gambling was concerned. There are 17 casinos currently operating in Cyprus, in 11 different cities, all in the northern region, although the availability of live poker is pretty limited, with only 11 live poker tables operating in the country. (2)
Still, Cyprus is pretty small, so 11 poker tables really isn’t all that bad for a country of this size in both area and population, and players who really want to play that form of poker and are willing to travel a bit if there’s no access in their area need not go very far to get in on some good live poker action.
Cyprus’ New Gambling Laws
In 2012 the Cyprus government, the official Cyprus government run in the Greek area that is, passed a law which sought to better regulate and limit gambling in the country, which included a procedure for licensure and a pretty detailed setting out of how gambling is to be run in the country. This law among other things prohibits and criminalizes so called games of chance, including casino and poker, and while it allows for sports betting, it does not permit sports betting exchanges, which is essentially players placing bets among themselves rather than with a betting house directly. (3)
The Turkish part of the country tends to follow the beat of their own drum though, and while this is supposed to apply there too, they continue to do their own thing, and still have operating casinos and generally do not consider themselves subject to the laws of the Greek side, even though that’s supposed to be the central government.
So while the Turkish side is supposed to be represented in the central Cypriot parliament, and there are seats there for Turkish Cypriot representatives, these seats remain empty, which tells you that there is still some real division here politically to say the least.
However, as time is passing, even the Greek half of the country is looking at liberalizing things, in order to seek to capture some of the economic benefits that the other half of the country has continued to enjoy. There are now plans to open a casino there alongside a 5 star hotel which will be targeted to tourists although not limited to them. (4)
In the mean time, the Greek side of Cyprus does have legal gambling but it is limited to sports betting shops run by the OPAP, the Greek gambling monopoly. Betting shops not run by OPAP are simply closed down. The tax rate on these land based betting shops is high though, which is driving betters toward online betting, particularly the unapproved ones located in other countries.
Cyprus Online Poker Today
Cyprus used to be a hotbed for online gambling, as when they became a member of the EU back in 2004, and without any real laws at the time regarding online gambling, online gambling companies actually flocked to Cyprus and the government at the time was more than happy to hand out licenses to these companies for their international operations. (5)
So not only did online gambling proliferate here but for a time, and for a significant part of online gambling’s history, Cyprus was even a hub for online gambling. This did change though with the passing of the 2012 Betting Act, which did regulate online gambling as well, and did seek to limit it to sports betting as was done with land based gambling.
The Turkish side of the country would likely be more than happy to take over the handing out of these licenses but they are not the official government of Cyprus and therefore do not have such authority, in spite of their continued permissiveness toward gambling in general.
Poker simply is not on the list here though, and online poker is in fact one of the games that is explicitly banned by the law, alongside casino games. The thinking here seems to be that sports betting is a game of skill, and they are fine with that, although both poker and casino games are seen as games of chance which the authorities here take a dim view of.
Sports betting is clearly the most popular form of gambling in Cyprus though, although it’s probably the case that its wide availability has had something to do with this. People do play online poker here though, but all of it is off the grid, at foreign based online poker sites.
So what has transpired is that the Cyprus government has ordered their ISPs to block major gambling sites, of face stiff fines, and this blacklist does include some online poker sites as well. (6)
As is the case elsewhere though, this doesn’t do a lot to stop players, as this only keeps people from downloading poker room software, not actually playing poker at these sites, and players merely get the software they want from using a VPN to get around the attempts to block them.
So online poker continues on in Cyprus in spite of the government’s efforts, and regulated online poker may happen some day here as it has in some other countries, but that is a long way off at best, but the good news is that it doesn’t really matter.