Optimism is growing in Israeli poker circles that poker tournaments may be legalised by the Knesset following a bill introduced at the end of November by Likud MK Sharren Haskel (see previous InfoPowa report).
The Haskel bill would remove poker from the list of illegal gambling activity in the wake of a Supreme Court decision by Justice Neal Hendel earlier this year that the game is primarily one of skill rather than chance. That will allow poker tournament organisers go about their business without the fear of a three-year prison sentence.
The Jerusalem Post reports that in recent times the Israeli poker community has been subjected to negative headlines, with the Unit for Combating Economic Crime also beginning to block unauthorised gambling domains, potentially affecting online poker operators in the foreseeable future.
But Haskel’s proposed bill could change all that. It will define poker’s legal status and outline solutions for the associated tax issues. The Israel Poker Players Association will be regulated and will be able to organise domestic and international tournaments under the oversight of the Finance Ministry.
The new bill could also mean changes in the poker players’ tax payments. Because it will be defined as a game of skill a new tax rate would have to be approved; currently players who declare their income as derived from lotteries, prizes and gambling” are taxed at 35 percent, and are increasingly being tracked through well-known international poker information sites by the Israel Poker Players Association and, it is believed, the Israel Tax Authority.
When passed, the Haskel legislation will have tax implications for Israeli poker players, some tax advisers believe. The recent 35 percent tax rate will become 50 percent because tournament winnings will be classified as business earnings.
Presently, the main forms of gambling that are considered legal in Israel are sports betting and the lottery. The Israel Sports Betting Board (ISBB) was formed in 1968 to provide wagering opportunities that will support Israeli sports activities through the revenues the wagers generate. The ISBB is licensed to organise “games of skills” but not games of chance.
Some 1350 retail betting outlets have been opened in Israel, a majority of which are focused on fixed-odds winner bets on basketball and soccer games. Toto, a pool-style form of betting is also on offer.
With poker now considered a game of skill, it will become a legal form of gambling in Israel once the proposed legislation is passed.