Betting in Turkey

Extending along the Eastern Mediterranean, the Republic of Turkey connects the continents of Europe and Asia, bordering Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Although its population of over 74 million is predominantly Muslim (96.1%), Turkey is a secular state with no official religion. The national language is Turkish and the local currency is the Lira.

After a long history as the seat of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey was declared a parliamentary republic in 1923. The country became a charter member of the United Nations in 1945 and joined NATO in 1952. Despite a series of military coups d’état between 1960 and 1997, Turkey has emerged as one of the strongest and most politically stable nations in the region. In 1999, application was made for full membership in the European Union and the process of accession is ongoing.

Because Turkey is not formally a Muslim state, the religious tenets of the Koran against gambling do not apply to national laws. In fact, casino gambling was legalized nationwide in 1983. Initially Turkish citizens were barred from the live gaming areas of the casinos, but by 1995 the ban was lifted and local residents were allowed at the gaming tables.

When the Islamic Welfare Party gained control of the country in 1997, they passed a law shutting down all 78 Turkish casinos that had been established by that time. Since then, the gambling laws have been in a constant state of flux. Currently, there are two officially licensed Turkish casinos, both located in Girne on the northern coast of Cyprus.

One popular form of legal gambling that survived the reforms in Turkey was the state lottery (Piyango), which was founded in 1939. Initially, the proceeds from the lottery were used to support the National Air Force. In 1985, a new law designated the “complete defence industry” as the beneficiary. By 2000, a nationwide sale network was created with no fewer than 8,691 vendors selling Piyango tickets and 3,947 sales outlets distributing lotto entries.

In particular, the national sports lottery, Sportoto, has grown to contribute an annual turnover in excess of €700 million. All lottery products, including instant win tickets (Hemen–Kazan) and classic lotto games (Sayisal Loto & Sans Topu), are administered by Milli Piyango, the Turkish National Lottery Administration, reporting directly to the Prime Minister’s office.

Horse racing is another gambling activity which has received a “bye” under reforms. The Turkish Jokey Club was sanctioned by the Cabinet as a non-profit organization in 1952. A track was initially established in Ankara, with 20 races conducted per year, but the Club moved its headquarters to Istanbul in 1986.

Since then, trackside pari-mutuel betting has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2010, the cash betting turnover was equivalent to about €500 million, of which 50 percent was returned to bettors and 28 percent was received by the government. Breeding is big business in Turkey, too, with registration of some 815 stallions and 7,006 mares in the country, including both Thoroughbreds and Pure Arabs.

Other forms of gambling, such as sports betting shops, bingo halls, poker rooms and slot arcades are prohibited under Turkish law. Opportunities can be found by those who know where to look, but reportedly becoming harder to find. In fact, measures have been taken to keep online gambling out of Turkey as well, including laws passed to prevent funds transfer to online casinos and steps to prevent Turkish citizens from accessing gambling sites on the Internet.

To some degree, the repressive efforts have been successful, as evidenced by the decision taken recently by Neteller to terminate business with Turkish residents. On the other hand, some 379 offshore sportsbooks still accept wagers from customers with address inside Turkey, including Bets10, Artemis Bet, BetVictor and Totesport Sportsbook, to name a few. There are even 20 bookmaking sites that offer services in the Turkish language, with UniBet and myBet Sportsbook counted among them.