Betting in Iran

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Once known as the Kingdom of Persia, the country now known as Iran is a Middle Eastern nation bordered by Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and Turkmenistan. With a population of more than 70 million people, it is the 18th largest country in the world and geographically a little smaller than the state of Alaska. The state religion is Shi’a Islam and the official language is Persian.

Some 6,000 years ago, Persia was among the first areas of the world to embrace gambling with dice, first with four-sided Astragali made of bone and later with six-sided cubes. Plutarch, the famed Greek historian, once wrote of a dice game played between King Artaxerxes and his mother Parysatis.

It seems that the King had ordered his servant to behead Prince Cyrus, his younger brother, for attempting a coup. Parysatis wished to avenge her son’s murder and offered to play a friendly game of dice with Artaxerxes. Initially she lost on purpose, enticing the King to play for higher stakes—ownership of the servant who had killed Cyrus. When she won, the Mother Queen was able to take her revenge and the servant’s life.

Whatever role gambling played in Persia’s past, it all came to an abrupt halt in 1978. That’s when the Islamic Revolution deposed the ruling Shah of Iran and placed Ayatollah Khomeini in power. Almost immediately, Muslim Sharia Law was invoked, including a complete ban on lotto, bingo, poker, sports betting and traditional casino games as well as all forms of online and mobile gambling.

Specifically, the Koran deems gambling to be the 14th Greater Sin, calling it “an abomination and the work of Satan.” Betting on games of chance “causes the faithful to believe in luck and not Allah.” Moreover, Muslims believe that each person’s fate is pre-determined, not subject to chance, so wagering on random events is a direct contradiction of Islamic doctrine.

Oddly enough, there are three minor exceptions to the otherwise total ban on gambling activities in Iran. Betting on archery contests, camel races and horse races is permitted, as encouraged by the Prophet Mohamed in the words of the Koran. There is one catch, however; only those person actually participating in the events as competitors are allowed bet amongst themselves.

Iranian citizens willing to go against the anti-gambling laws have but two options. The first is to go outside the country, beyond Iran’s legal jurisdiction, and in that regard neighbouring Turkmenistan has been happy to oblige. Just a few hours by bus from Teheran, the former Soviet country offers blackjack, roulette, slots and other traditional Western-style casino games to visitors from Iran.

The second avenue for gambling is via the Internet. Although the Iranian government forbids both local and foreign companies from operating gambling web sites based within the country’s borders, access to foreign online sportsbooks and casinos cannot be effectively denied. Many Iranians choose to connect through proxy servers based elsewhere in order to reach the numerous online gambling centers that willingly accept Iranian players.

To date, some 438 different outside sportsbooks accept wagers from inside Iran. These include primarily English-language sites, such as bet365, ladbrokes, expekt, gamebookers, Interwetten, betfred and canbet Sports, to name just a few.

There are also two venues that cater to Iranian bettors in the Persian language, namely BetIAS based in Malta and VivaroBet headquartered in Armenia. Numerous third party payment methods can be used for deposits and withdrawals, too.