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It is legal to gamble in Kazakhstan, subject to governmental regulations. Kazakhstan not long ago used to have hundreds of gambling halls spread around the country, but in 2007 the government passed a law limiting casinos to two locations, each near their two largest cities.
So now the casino count in Kazakhstan is down to just 29 casinos, with 9 of them offering poker, for a total of 63 poker tables in the country. (1)
So this restricts casino gambling to just two areas, and Kazakhstan is a pretty big country area wise, the ninth largest in the world by area and larger than all of Western Europe, so there are a lot of people that live a long ways away from one of these officially sanctioned casinos.
Even more noteworthy though is that Kazakhstan’s casinos cater to the wealthy, offering stakes that are well out of reach of most of the population. Just to be able to sit down and gamble at one of these casinos requires you to stake between $300 and $500, which is in the area of what the average Kazakhstani makes in a month.
While the people of Kazakhstan aren’t particularly known for their big appetite for gambling, many people in this country do love to gamble, and this situation where we went from a lot of places to gamble to just a few and also having them out of reach of most of the population did create a void.
So what ended up happening, as far as casino gambling went, is that thousands of gambling terminals sprung up around the country, accepting bets for as little as the equivalent of about $3. So this ended up satisfying the demand and giving the average person, and even the poorest of residents, access to casino games again. (2)
The government wasn’t too impressed by this as and they are particularly concerned that those under 21 may be allowed to gamble using these machines, and it’s said to be common for underage persons to partake in this.
The machines that are being used by this were originally set up for people to make various payments, and have been converted over to gambling machines. Of course gambling machines don’t know or care how old you are so there’s really nothing to stop people from any age from using them, provided they have the money to do so. (3)
Aside from their casinos and these gambling machines, Kazakhstan also has a pretty active sports betting scene, with many betting shops located around the country. These betting shops are licensed and regulated though, although there is still concern that bets are often being taken from underage gamblers.
Sports betting is regulated separately from casino gambling in this country, for whatever reason, so these betting shops are not subject to the same rules as casinos, for instance being forced to locate in one of the two official gambling areas as casinos have to.
These betting shops cater to all segments of the population as well, where lower income Kazakhstanis can participate as well. So in terms of casino gambling and sports betting, there is plenty of both to be had in Kazakhstan, between casino betting terminals and sports betting shops, and while the government has expressed a desire to try to control gambling more in the country, they also worry that tightening up the regulations may just turn the matter over to organized crime, and people will gamble anyway and this will just cause more problems.
Kazakhstan does have a poker scene of sorts, but it is limited to playing at one of the casinos, and therefore live poker doesn’t really have a very strong following here in terms of numbers of players that can access it. There also hasn’t been anywhere the kind of demand for live poker as there is for casino and sports betting, so alternatives haven’t emerged, at least commercially.
Online Gambling and Poker in Kazakhstan
While the 2007 legislation does prohibit online casinos, at least those residing in Kazakhstan, there are still a few rogue online sites within the country that offer online casino games. (4). This legislation only applies to casino gambling, but poker is considered part of casino gambling here, as it is considered a casino game, so this law probably prohibits online poker sites as well, although it probably doesn’t apply to sports betting which is treated separately.
This law does concern itself with what sorts of gambling operations are permitted in Kazakhstan though, so for instance if you lived in Kazakhstan and were caught operating an unauthorized online gambling site, then you would risk being charged under the law.
However, there are no laws in Kazakhstan prohibiting any sort of gambling itself, at least at the present time anyway. So players simply play where they want without any restrictions or interference from authorities.
So in terms of poker sites, players from Kazakhstan can simply play at whatever online poker sites they want, at the present time. The government here doesn’t seek to block their access or interfere with financial transactions as is the case in some countries, simply because it’s not illegal to play poker online for money.
So there are quite a few players from this country that play online poker frequently, in spite of the overall lack of popularity of poker here. It’s probably the case that Kazakhstanis haven’t generally been exposed to poker that much, but the new world of online poker is changing that and now that those with an internet connection have access to it, we may see a real growth in poker here, and we’re seeing it already.
So while there’s no interest in regulating online poker by the government here, and they have enough to worry about as far as trying to establish more control over their land based gambling, it doesn’t matter a bit to poker players in Kazakhstan, as they already have free reign over the situation and can play all the poker they want right now. So that’s already as good as it gets.