Israel crackdown - based in law or intimidation?


RIP Brian
Feb 22, 2001

But is it really illegal in Israel?

Contrary views on the legality of Internet gambling are creating fierce legal debate in Israel between the AG and police authorities, the state lottery monopoly and legal advisers to online gambling operators in the country.

Israeli officialdom appeared to be cracking down on Internet gambling this week when the Haaretz publication claimed that operators and credit card processors had been warned by Israeli police that their activities were illegal.

Haaretz reports that Major General Yohanan Danino, head of the Police Investigations and Intelligence Unit, has notified Interlogic, which operates the Play 65 internet site, that both the police and the attorney general consider the operation of a gambling site for backgammon games a criminal offence. The official warned the company that it must cease to allow players on the site to gamble real money on the results of the game.

The game of backgammon itself, or gambling with virtual money, is not prohibited.

In an exercise reminiscent of the US Department of Justice activities, the police reportedly also sent written notices to credit companies operating in Israel, through which the site's deposits are cleared - Leumi Card, Visa C.A.L. and Isracard - warning them against continued handling of gambling money deposits.

"Cooperation with the companies that operate gambling sites over the internet, including provision of clearing services to these companies, is a criminal offence with all that this entails," the notices claim. The prohibition is a general one, and includes cooperation with Interlogic.

Haaretz says that the police and the office of the attorney general has decided to step up enforcement following a meeting held between the attorney general, Eran Shendar, Major General Danino of the police and senior officers of the attorney general's office. In the meeting it was decided that the sites which operate gambling on backgammon games are committing a criminal offence.

About a year ago, the economic department of the attorney general's office prepared an opinion that internet gambling which targets Israelis constitutes an offence. This has yet to be tested in the law courts.

Exploiting this opinion, the police commenced enforcement activities and began investigating online sites that advertise gambling operations such as Walla and ONE. According to the attorney general's office, enforcement activity has now been extended to include credit companies which provide services to internet gambling sites.

In response to questions as to when enforcement authorities in Israel began requesting criminals to cease their activities, and why no prosecution had been launched against offending companies, Attorney Even-Chen responded: "Our intention is not to run out and start criminal proceedings immediately, but to try and solve the matter by external, more effective means, both for the state and the credit companies.

"This is especially true at the outset of enforcement activities, when the companies may claim that they were unaware of this being a crime in Israel, and that had they known, they would have ceased the activity. In cases where the issue concerns matters on which the state has remained silent up until now, and which it has not enforced, it is more correct, from the public perspective, to allow the companies another chance."

Interlogic is arguing that: "The company has tangible proof that the legality of the game has been approved by the world's leading statistics and legal experts in the field, who have opined that the game is one of skill and cannot be defined as a game of chance. The comparison of backgammon to a game of chance such as cards or bingo is strange, and raises many questions about those who are behind it."

Interlogic added that advertising companies had only publicised the game after a "specific and documented inquiry" had been made regarding it legality to the AG's office, which did not contest the legality of the despite repeated and specific questions from local media.

"They received specific approvals to advertise the site from their legal departments, because this is not gambling prohibited by law," a spokesman said.

The chairman of Mifal Hapais, the state lottery, welcomed the announcement, saying: "A ridiculous situation had been created, where the lottery, which transfers all of its profits to the community, cannot operate games on the internet because it was not able to receive authorisation to do so, while the black market and private operators are getting rich. I hope that the police's decision will be legislated, and solve the problem once and for all."

Legal council for the internet gambling companies, however argued, "The attorney general's declaration against internet gambling is an attempt to enforce a prohibition that does not exist in the law." He added that in current legislative conditions, there is no specific prohibition on internet gambling.

This being the case, the enforcement initiative could be peceived as over-zealous and intimidatory rather than a legitimate undertaking based solidly in law.

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