Israeli poker players find ways to succeed

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Will the State of Israel have legalized poker? Since its founding in 1948 games of chance – including poker – have been outlawed in Israel; although it is estimated over 100,000 Israelis enjoy playing poker. Most participate in underground games.

Just as Texas hold’em is by far the favorite here in the U.S., so it is in Israel. A number of Israelis have distinguished themselves in the poker world, including WSOP bracelet winners, Rafi Amit, Yuval Bronshtein, David Levi, Amir Lehavot, and Eli Elezra.

Despite all its problems in defending its people from terrorist attacks, life goes on with a booming economy, great educational opportunities, a growing technology base – and ever more poker enthusiasts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks a casino, including poker, would be a good idea, to be located in the southern resort area of Eilat. It would bring in additional revenue for the State of Israel and the local area. It could be the first of many casinos in their country.

But there is controversy among Israel’s political leaders and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told journalists last month: “The State of Israel does not need casinos. It needs to provide education, values, and jobs – not a casino.” (He didn’t mention the lottery already is legal in Israel.)

Not really new but, even if it’s illegal and operating in the shadows, poker is thriving in the Holy Land. It’s residents play online or travel to countries where gambling is legal, including Malta, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Poker tournaments are played on Israeli cruise ships outside territorial waters. Underground Texas Hold’em events are held in private clubs and homes far from the gaze of the law. Indeed, the Israeli Poker Academy has over 600 graduates since it opened about two years ago.

Innovation recognized for Israelis’ innovative character, legalized poker in Israel could well start a whole new way for the game to be offered throughout the world. I discussed the matter with Israeli-American dual citizen, poker celebrity Robbie Strazynski, founder of the Cardplayer Lifestyle poker blog, co-host of the Top Pair Home Game Poker Podcast as well as the on-camera presenter and host of the PokerUpdate.com YouTube channel.

He has a rather unique idea that could lead to a revolution in how live poker is played throughout the world. Instead of casinos where slots and other forms of gambling are also offered, Israel would have a number of poker rooms, limited to live poker games.

He further explained: “The majority of the revenues would be split among the Social Welfare Ministry, municipal social services departments, and local charities.” He calls it “kosher poker.”

Could it bring peace? A poker buddy, who is knowledgeable in world affairs, suggested – perhaps – casinos or poker rooms in Israel could serve to foster peace in the area.

“The economic plight of the Palestinians could well be mitigated with jobs in the new casinos. Residents of the Gaza Strip could find well-paying jobs,” he predicted, “encouraging them to live at peace with their neighbor. That’s like what happened with Jordan and Egypt,” he explained. “They had more to gain.”

Hey, why not; it just might work.

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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