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Gambling in Ukraine is currently restricted by law by way of the Ukrainian parliament’s passing of “On Prohibition of Gambling Business in Ukraine” in 2009. (1) Any placing of bets in which the outcome is found to be determined by chance in whole or in part is considered gambling under the law, and is banned, except where permitted by law.
So what was done here is to specify which types of gambling are permitted, and aside from allowing things like lotteries and gambling for charity, it also set out “gambling zones” where gambling is allowed, which includes hotels rated at least 4 stars and with 100 rooms or more, certain entertainment and cultural complexes, and cruise ships.
So it’s not that gambling was prohibited in Ukraine, as the title of the law suggests, it’s more like it was regulated, and at least part of the rationale for this new regulation was the fire they had in a gambling hall immediately preceding the law in which 9 people lost their lives.
A lot of the unapproved gambling operators didn’t exactly go away quietly though and since then there have been hundreds of arrests resulting in gambling operators being shut down and their equipment seized. This is the target of this new law, to ensure that whatever gambling occurs in Ukraine meets with government approval and to look to shut down the gambling which does not.
The Crimea region was also deemed to be an approved gambling zone although this area is now under dispute as the Russians have effectively taken it over, and have established it as a gambling zone of their own. So this area isn’t really subject to Ukrainian law for all intents and purposes at present.
Playing Poker In Ukraine
When the law passed, people claimed that poker wasn’t gambling and therefore not subject to the new laws, since poker was considered a sport by the Ukrainian government, but the government quickly stepped in and removed poker being designated a sport so it would be instead viewed as gambling.
However, the poker industry in Ukraine didn’t take this lying down, and they disputed the government ruling, taking it all the way to the Ukrainian Supreme Court, who ended up ruling that poker was indeed a sport and therefore was distinct from the gambling with Ukrainian laws prohibit. (2)
So this resulted in a resurgence of poker clubs in Ukraine, who now offer dozens of places that players can play poker at, throughout the country, especially in the Kiev area which is a hotbed of poker and features the largest poker room in Eastern Europe (3).
In spite of the fact that some people have interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision to only deem tournament poker as a sport and not cash poker, both forms of poker are offered now in Ukraine, and cash poker here is even more popular and even more widely offered, even though there is plenty of tournament poker offered as well.
Online Gambling in Ukraine
The government claims that the new law applies equally to both land based and online gambling, and they have stated that online businesses offering gambling should be shut down alongside their land based counterparts. (4)
This presumably would mean that if a business set up an internet gambling site in Ukraine the government would seek to shut them down, although this really has little practical effect, since there are a lot of online sites that operate outside the country and therefore aren’t subject to Ukrainian law at all.
This did cause Ukrainian online gambling operators to move their servers outside the country to avoid the law, as the original law did provide this loophole, but it was closed in 2011 and any Ukrainian business found to be involved in online gambling is subject to being charged. (5)
In spite of poker now being declared a sport by the courts though, considering it to not consist of “gambling” in Ukraine, and therefore not illegal, there are no online poker sites in Ukraine, although players have no trouble playing at the large selection of online rooms located outside the country, and some even offer play in the Ukrainian language.
It remains to be seen if any Ukrainian operators will look to set up poker rooms within the country but keep in mind that the biggest reason why operators do this is to comply with regulation, meaning that they are told they have to do that by the government, and it’s simply easier to set up shop wherever it would make the most sense to based upon tax and other laws.
The Future Of Online Poker in Ukraine
So if Ukrainian businesses were looking to set up a poker room it would make more sense for them to run it from another location anyway, as they have been forced to do with their other gambling ventures, like sports betting and casino, which are not considered to be sports in Ukraine by anyone and would be illegal.
Given that poker sites offer other forms of gambling as well on their sites, and there is obviously money to be made off these other forms of betting even among poker players, it really wouldn’t make sense for them to set up in Ukraine regardless of what the law may be toward poker right now.
The bottom line though is that Ukrainians can play all the live poker they want right now at one of the poker clubs in the country, and they can also play as much online poker they want as well, at any poker site they wish, poker is considered a sport and therefore legal, and there are no regulations either causing the online poker sites they wish to play at to have to pay higher tax rates, and they are located in low tax rate areas, so this is an ideal situation right now.
In time, Ukrainian officials may look at regulating online poker and perhaps even online gambling in general, but this is not on the horizon right now, and that suits players just fine.