Betting in Israel

The Mediterranean nation known as the State of Israel declared its independence in 1948. Bordered by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, the country is a parliamentary republic with Jerusalem as its capital city and Tel Aviv as its financial center. The population is about 7.8 million, the local currency is the Shekel and both Hebrew and Arabic are spoken as official languages.

Just three years after the nation’s founding, the Israel National Lottery was organised under the auspices of Mifal Hapayis, a state-authorised provider established as a private non-profit company in 1951. Mifal Hapayis is owned by local authorities and receives its operating license from the Ministry of Finance.

In its first 50 years, the company raised more than 22 billion Israeli Shekels, equivalent to roughly £3.5 billion. Much of this revenue has been derived from a “subscription program” that was instituted in 1982 to incorporate into the Lottery a target group characterized by a relatively high income. By 2001, the program had grown to almost 600,000 subscribers representing hundreds of thousands of Israeli households.

Today, Mifal Hapayis offers a daily "Chance" game, a weekly Lotto game and instant-win scratch cards known as Hish Gad. There are ten main distributors in charge of moving these throughout the country to some 2,500 points of sale, including about 800 dedicated street booths plus small shops that sell other products as well.

Despite the unquestioned success of the National Lottery, Israel's unicameral legislative body, the Knesset, has been much more cautious about legalizing other forms of gambling. For example, brick-and-mortar casino gambling is not legal anywhere within the country. As recently as 2008, a high-ranking member of the Knesset Interior Committee announced that land-based casinos are unlikely to be permitted in the foreseeable future, despite numerous studies indicating the positive economic impact they could have.

On the other hand, a limited number of casino cruise ships have been licensed for operation. They include four luxury vessels moored at the Port of Eilat as well as the Mano Cruises/Royal Iris based out of Haifa. The latter has been in service since 1971.

Legalised in 2004, betting on horse races is limited to a single location in Israel in the north-central part of the country, not too far from Haifa—the North Gilboa Race Track at Gilboa. Pari-mutuel style wagering is permitted on Thoroughbred races on the premises. However, sports betting is another story altogether.

In 1968, Israel Sports Betting Board (ISBB) was formed to provide wagering opportunities that would generate revenues for supporting Israeli sports activities. Specifically, the ISBB is licensed to organise “games of skill” as opposed to “games of chance.” Over the years, some 1,350 retail betting outlets have been opened. The majority of wagering is directed to fixed-odds “Winner” bets on soccer matches and basketball games. A pools-style form of betting called Toto is also offered.

Both Winner and Toto are now available on the Internet. Together with the Israel National Lottery, they constitute the only online gambling web sites permitted within the country. The Knesset is firmly opposed to offering Internet gambling licenses to any other companies. What’s more, attempts have been made to block Israeli citizens from accessing foreign Internet betting sites by using a filtering strategy to flag undesirable ISPs.

Of course, those who wish to get around the filters still find ways to do so, and sites based outside the Israeli government's jurisdiction continue to offers betting services to players with addresses in Israel. Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, UniBet, Bet365 and Expekt are just a few of the 429 online sportsbooks that welcome Israeli customers. BetVictor, Stan James, Pinnacle Sports and even offer versions of their bookmaking sites in Hebrew.