PokerStars has shuttered its online operations in Israel amid concerns the local authorities are set to target offshore gambling sites.
As it stands, there is no legislation that explicitly outlaws online poker in Israel. However, under the 1977 act that prohibited all forms of gambling across the country, online activities are assumed to be illegal.
While this position hasn’t changed in recent months, PokerStars informed players on June 24 that their accounts would be closed as of June 27th.
The news quickly filtered through the community via 2+2 and was later confirmed to Poker Industry PRO by PokerStars.
According to an email sent out to all players based in Israel, a review of “commercial opportunities and business risks” has forced PokerStars to cease all real money gaming within the country.
While players were assured that their account balances are entirely safe and available for withdrawal at any time, the revelation that they will no longer be able to ante-up at PokerStars has come as a blow.
With the likes of 888Poker, Unibet and partypoker already inaccessible in Israel, PokerStars was one of the last outlets for players. Unfortunately, due to a change of circumstances, this option has also been removed.
Speculation is now rife as to why PokerStars has chosen this particular moment to pull out of Israel. The most likely explanation is recent media reports that the government is looking to crackdown on offshore gambling sites.
At present there is only one legal online sportsbook in the country (Winner) and it looks as though lawmakers want to keep it that way.
In addition to the media speculation regarding offshore gambling, Texas Hold’em was also deemed a game of chance and, therefore, illegal back in December 2015.
The combination of these two facts is the most likely reason PokerStars has decided to avoid any tricky legal situations and shutter its Israeli operations.
Another possible reason for the move, according to GPI boss Alex Dreyfus, is a potential takeover bid by an Israeli investor.
Commenting on the situation via his Twitter account, Dreyfus speculated that a new owner may want to avoid any legal issues in their local region.
“@PokerStars blocking Israelis players, sign that new buyers could be from Israel? 😉 General Meeting is tomorrow,” tweeted Dreyfus.
While Dreyfus’s assumption is purely speculative at the moment, nothing should ever be ruled out in the poker world.
When Amaya purchased PokerStars’ parent company for $4.9 billion back in 2014 it took many members of the community by surprise.
This fact, coupled with the accusations of insider trading currently being leveled against CEO David Baazov, could mean a new owner is waiting in the wings.
For now, however, the fact remains that PokerStars is no longer a viable real money poker site for Israeli players, which means thousands of grinders will now have to find a new way to ante-up.