Whilst Turkey currently remains a secular state, the influence of Islam can still be seen in the government's stance towards gambling. The country, which was once home to a thriving casino industry, has now largely banned gambling in all its forms, with the exception of a number of state-regulated enterprises. This hasn't affected its citizens' thirst for online slots, though, and many of the best casinos still welcome Turkish players with open arms.
Following a stream of legislation throughout the 90's and early 2000's, both physical and online gambling were definitively banned by the government in 2007. The only exception to the online aspect of the new law is the state-owned sports betting company IDDAA - this is the only organisation that can legally offer Turkish citizens access to any form of online gambling.
The country has also taken the controversial decision to target players breaking the laws, rather than the usual practice of aiming sanctions at companies that actually run the websites. As of 2013, the Turkish Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency has also had its role expanded to include the policing of banks and credit card companies that process payments on behalf of both players and online casinos. Not only do individuals now face a penalty of up to £160,000 if caught using foreign sites, but both casino agents and complicit bankers could also soon face prison sentences for facilitating the practice - this builds on the 2008 arrest of two Sportingbet employees, who were detained whilst on holiday in Turkey in response to the company evading its anti-gambling measures.
Gambling isn't completely illegal, though, and in addition to the online sports betting offered by the IDDAA, the Turkish government also runs a state lottery that turns over an estimated $1.5billion a year. In fact, a number of critics have noted that a driving force behind the continued ban on gambling may be the desire of the government to privatise the lottery - as it's one of the only legal forms of gambling in the country, it is sure to attract a much higher price tag.
Whilst there are only a small handful of legal gambling activities in Turkey, that hasn't stopped the country's citizens from developing a passion for a number of casino-style activities. In addition to the state and sport lotteries, the rise of the IDDAA has also created a demand for both football and basketball betting, as well as tennis and volleyball. IDDAA offers dozens of markets for these sports, satisfying a small amount of the demand for online gambling.
Horse racing has also managed to escape the blanket ban on gambling activities, with the national Jockey Club of Turkey organising local and national events since 1953. This particular sport has also created a huge equine industry across Turkey, with thousands of horses reared specifically to race each year. Whilst Turkish nationals can bet legally on these sports, there are a number of international providers still allowing Turkish registrations, opening up a whole world of card and table games.
Whilst the government's crackdown on gambling in Turkey appears to have been largely successful, fines against individuals and casinos are still incredibly rare and hard to police. Sanctions against national banks may be effective, but that hasn't stopped online payment portals such as Paypal and Ukash operating freely across Turkey, making it quick and easy for avid gamblers to transfer cash between their accounts.
As Turkey marches ever closer to EU membership, it may soon be forced to change its attitude in order to comply with free trade rules. There's also the issue of privatisation - once the state lottery enters private hands, the government will have less incentive to corner the market and may soon start to value the extra tax revenue derived from the proceeds of gambling.
Until the situation changes, brave Turkish citizens can still register with a number of top online gambling sites, with the likes of Winner Casino still allowing those with a Turkish IP to create an account.
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