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Iceland is a pretty conservative country when it comes to gambling in general, even though they have had a legal lottery since 1933, which became expanded over the years. These lotteries were private ones, and it wasn’t until 1986 that the Icelandic government started to get involved, when the first state lottery began.
In spite of Iceland’s tolerance for lotteries, other forms of gambling haven’t been viewed quite as favorably, and other forms of gambling have been illegal over much of this time, although in 1994 certain forms of slot machines became permitted, although to this day casinos remain illegal in Iceland. (1)
So especially in comparison to a lot of their much more permissive sister European countries, Iceland is pretty conservative indeed when it comes to gambling. Even Russia, the stalwart of gambling conservatism, has some casino action these days, even though it’s limited to only a few areas. There are even Muslim countries that have casinos, and Iceland certainly remains quite behind the times in this area, at least within Europe.
The winds of change are blowing here to some extent anyway, and there’s at least been some talk of opening a legal casino in Iceland over the past few years. On the one hand, there are some that find the idea of the additional tax revenue that this would generate quite appealing indeed, especially from tourists. On the other hand, there is still quite a concern about the social cost a casino is feared to bring, where problem gambling would be expected to escalate under such a change. (2)
Land based gambling still goes on in Iceland though, to be sure, including live poker as well. These games tend to take place at least a little off the grid, they aren’t officially sanctioned in other words, and in one instance the police were sent in and raided a poker tournament. (3)
It is against the law here to profit from gambling, in terms of running a gambling establishment and collecting a fee, and those who run these poker establishments could be said to profit from it if they do collect such fees, which may be in violation of the law. While the operator of this particular game admitted he collected a fee, as alleged by the police, he claimed that this is no different than collecting fees at bingo halls, which aren’t prosecuted.
Since then, the authorities have lightened up on this sort of activity and at least since then have left these poker games alone, and police have even been spotted playing in them now, off duty of course. So this is a case where there is a need and in spite of this possibly being against the law, law enforcement has chosen to look the other way.
So the bottom line here is that there is some live poker action in Iceland, particularly in the capital of Reykjavik, but you have to go off the grid a little, although the risk to players is seen to be very small.
To get around Iceland’s current gambling laws, there has been talk of having floating casinos here, where poker may be offered in addition to casino games, but so far all it’s been is talk and none of the cruise companies who are contemplating this have stepped up and created this as of yet. (4)
Online Poker In Iceland
People in Iceland do like to gamble though, whether it is readily available or not, and 76% of Icelanders do participate in gambling anyway, with most of this action involving gambling online, which is indeed readily available in spite of the lack of land based gambling in this country.
Casinos and sports betting sites are the most popular forms here, as they tend to be generally, but Icelanders do enjoy playing a good amount of online poker as well. As of yet, the Icelandic government hasn’t really taken any steps to prevent their residents from gambling online, but there may be plans in the works to do that in the near future.
If a country is resistant to the idea that approving land based gambling and collecting the tax money that comes with that, and also having a bigger say in the regulation of such gambling, and none of this entices them, because they are too preoccupied in their possibly having a hand in increasing problem gambling in the country, then it’s fair to say that they aren’t going to be too permissive when it comes to offshore betting, where they get no benefits.
While many other countries in Europe have either implemented regulated online gambling or are considering it, this is far off the table in Iceland. Problem gambling is indeed fairly significant here, and it’s said that 2.5% of Icelanders are problem gamblers, although this figure depends on how problem gambling is defined.
In any event, it’s seen as a problem by the Icelandic government, and a lot of the gambling here occurs online, as is the case these days generally, but this is even more the case given that people in Iceland don’t even have good alternatives to it.
So there is a movement afoot to block not only gambling sites but porn sites as well in Iceland, under the guise of promoting public safety. The fact that they are considering blocking porn as well speaks loudly to how conservative this country really is, as this is something you really only see in the most repressive of countries.
It hasn’t happened yet mind you, and plenty of countries around the world, including many in Europe, look to block gambling sites at the ISP level, but this doesn’t work anywhere near as well as the authorities would like it to, so there really isn’t much need for concern among Icelandic online poker players if this does come to pass, as they can then look toward their brethren in other countries to see how they get around this, which is just a matter of using internet proxies to connect to it, and escape the grasp of the long arm of the government that way.
For now though, Icelanders have free access to the internet and to online poker sites, so they just play where they want to without any interference.