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Turkey not long ago had taken a much more permissive view of gambling. In 1990 casino gambling became allowed, which expanded greatly during this decade where at its peak there were a total of 80 casinos operating in the country, employing over 20,000 people and generating over a billion dollars in revenue per year.
Then, to a large degree due to concerns about the extent of money laundering that was going on within the casino industry, the Turkish government started placing restrictions on casino gambling in 1996, followed by a decision to shut them down and ban them altogether in 1998. (1)
This did not put a stop to casino gambling in Turkey though as illegal casinos continue to operate to this day in the country. In spite of being a predominantly Muslim country, a religion which takes a stance against gambling, Turks have well known to have a big appetite for gambling.
So there aren’t any legal poker games that you can play in Turkey these days but there is said to be a good amount of underground games that people can partake in. It’s not that Turkey doesn’t have legal gambling though, as they still maintain a lottery which is pretty popular, and also have a state run sportsbook, the IDDAA, where people can place bets on sports online. (2)
No one else is authorized to offer online gambling to Turks, so what we have here is a monopoly really, the sort of thing that is frowned on by the EU. Turkey is seeking to join the EU at some point and the EU has taken exception to member countries who maintain monopolies on gambling, claiming that it interferes with the concept of free trade that the EU is committed to, so if and when Turkey is admitted into the EU this may result in pressure being brought upon them to end this monopoly as we see happening in other countries.
The Impact of Turkey’s Laws On Online Poker and Gambling
Turkey has made it illegal for any unlicensed company to offer online poker and online gambling to its residents. Much like the United States, they also tend to believe that their laws apply in other countries as well and that companies outside of Turkey are somehow subject to their particular laws.
This really hasn’t swayed at least some online companies from not only allowing Turks to place online bets with them and play online poker at their sites, some actually specifically target and market to Turkish players.
Betsson for instance is said to do a full quarter of their business in Turkey, and scoff at claims by the Turkish government that doing so is illegal. Bettson claims instead, rightly, that what they are doing is not against the law at all and they are not subject to Turkish law at all since they have no physical presence there, they are instead subject to the laws of Malta where they actually are located. (3)
So there’s no legal remedies for Turkey here, they certainly can’t successfully sue Bettson or other online poker and gambling companies as they would need to bring the suit in the other country where the laws that are claimed to be violated do not apply.
They also won’t be successful in extraditing people from countries where the alleged crimes are not even a crime at all or against the law at all there.
It wouldn’t make sense to bring their claim to European trade authorities either as these authorities regulate countries not companies, and even so, the mandate of these authorities is to enhance trade and if a company is licensed in their area of focus, Europe, then they would be prone to come in on the side of permitting the activity in any case.
Turkey does to act against offshore gaming companies in manners that they do have some control over, such as banning websites and the like. However, the gaming companies being targeted have been able to work around this without too much trouble, and they are clearly motivated to do so.
Players are targeted by this as well but once again there are workarounds such as using proxy servers, where the country may seek restrictions on Turkish IP addresses but players simply use a dynamic IP address from another country.
This isn’t to say that these measures aren’t effective to some degree, but with the penchant for online poker and gambling that Turks have, they seem more motivated than most to get around these roadblocks.
The Turkish government has also sought to restrict the participation of financial institutions from online gambling but once again this isn’t something that can’t be easily circumvented with a little extra effort, and other means of moving money in and out of these offshore sites such as internet wallets are readily available. (4)
The Future of Online Poker in Turkey
Who really knows whether or not the Turkish government will give up their fight against all of this and come to realize that online poker and online gambling is going to be rampant in their country in spite of their best efforts, and one day look to cash in on this as several other countries have done already.
They already allow online sports betting so it shouldn’t be much of a stretch to add online poker to it, although there are two separate issues here, one being expanding this to online poker and the other being opening up the market to companies other than the state run one that handles online betting exclusively now in Turkey.
There doesn’t seem to be much going on to make this happen though, and the best bet for Turkish regulated online poker may be tied to their prospective membership in the EU, which presumably has far more benefits to them then whether they should get rid of their monopoly on gambling or not.
This could take a good few years to play out though, but in the meantime, Turkish players have had a big presence in the online poker scene since the beginning of online poker and there’s no reason to think that this won’t continue into the future, in spite of whatever the Turkish government may want. Sites that I would recommend checking out for players living here are places like PPI Poker and PokerStars.