No Turkish Delight on the Legal Horizon for Online Gamers

online gambling turkey

While many of the world’s governments have loosened restrictions on online sports betting, Turkey has tightened the screws on those who dare to skirt the rules.

Is online gambling legal in Turkey? Only if it bears the government’s imprimatur.

Follow the money.

Government-Run Gambling: The Only Gaming Option in Turkey

In Turkey, the only legal options for gambling, both online and off, are government-run sites. The official explanation is, of course, that since the Quran forbids games of chance, gambling wouldn’t be a good fit for the Muslim-majority country.

So why, then, does the uber-pious ruling party run the national lottery – the Milli Piyango — with all the showbiz flair of Western gambling sites?

You’d think that there’d be at least a warning. But you’d be wrong.

Even in the “Responsible Gaming” section, there are only the usual invitations to people who think they might have an addiction to self-disable. No warnings about gambling itself being a danger.

Perhaps because it’s not. On the contrary. At least for the ruling AK Parti and its cronies, it’s a honeypot.

Gaming in Turkey: From Thriving Industry to Forbidden Fruit

You see, Turkey’s religious bent since gambling was legal there back in the 1990s hasn’t changed much. In fact, researchers have found that in recent years, Turks have actually taken a turn toward a more secular worldview.

They were every bit as Muslim then as they are now. However, what brought down gambling in Turkey wasn’t a group of repentant paupers who lost their life’s earnings betting on Besiktas football matches.

It was murder, probably a state-sanctioned one, given the players. At least that’s the other “official” story. Casino owner and mafia kingpin Omer Lutfi Topal was gunned down in 1996. The trail of corruption that both he and his alleged killer (who also died, only in a car crash) left behind stunned the Turkish public.

However, Turks and tourists continued to gamble on, many in Topal’s casinos, left in the capable hands of Ömer Gultekin. But eventually, they closed – in 1998. As one tour guide put it, “the main reason for closing the casinos was to stop those who launder their money; also nobody knew how much those 79 casinos’ incomes were, so as the amount of tax that they had to pay!”

Tax. Revenue. The government wasn’t getting its piece of the action.

So, they shut the industry down – just like that. When online casinos came onto the Turkish scene, the authorities banned them, too – as soon as they could get a handle on them.

But then, as Istanbul-based business law firm Herguner Bilgen Ozeke points out in, government-run alternatives took their place “to attract more clients to the local monopoly for betting activities (i.e., IDDAA) and to increase its tax income.” (Emphasis mine).

God, it turns out, was just a convenient excuse to rake in more cash into the government’s coffers.

Currently, as football journalist Eren Sarigul points out, the only legal forms of gambling are:

  • Betting at horse racing tracks
  • Gambling on sports with the government-owned IDDAA
  • Milli Piyango

Online Gaming in Turkey: Not Worth the Risk

Although some gamers chance hefty fines – and even a prison stay – to gamble online via VPN, we wouldn’t advise it. In fact, for the moment, at least, we’d suggest that online betting sites do not accept Turkish players.

Back in 2007 – and the Turkish gambling laws have only tightened since then – two Sportingbet employees visited Turkey on holiday. At that time, Sportingbet still accepted Turkish players.

That holiday turned into a nightmare. The police arrested these employees, along with a few others, according to Poker News Daily’s Earl Burton.

Don’t let that happen to you, your employees, or your customers. Until Turkey loosens its online gaming regulations – as Sarigul thinks it eventually will – it’s not worth the risk.

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