Casino gambling is alive and well in Turkey despite the 1998 prohibition. At the time, the government acquiesced to conservative Islamic factions, and decided to ban all forms of gambling.
Turkish gambling laws were replaced by Article 228 of the Penal Code which prescribes surprisingly mild punishments for gambling offenses. According to the misdemeanor law, casino operators or promoters (affiliates) face up to a year in jail and a 500 lira fine ($325), with the sentence doubled if children are induced to gamble.
Gamblers caught during frequent police raids only pay a small fine of 154 lira ($100), equivalent to a traffic ticket, and are never taken to the police station. Not one person has been jailed under Article 228 primarily due to a local custom of paying a larger fine in exchange for freedom.
Istanbul, the country’s capital, is the home of at least 15-20 opulent five star illegal casinos with plush interiors, renowned chefs and top notch service. The casinos, frequented by the rich and the powerful, require an introduction for a prospective gambler to be admitted inside.
Police frequently raid the establishments, yet as the owners are released the following day, the Turkish poker rooms or casinos simply reopens at ‘back-up’ locations which were prepared weeks in advance.
Police Officer Ahmet Deniz, part of the 62 member vice squad, introduced by the new Istanbul Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın, explains – “Members of the middle class can’t afford to go in the casinos we raid. We don’t have the manpower to raid middle class casinos.”
It is not unusual for the police to discover famous actors, politicians, scientists, artists and businessmen while conducting a raid. The officer recounts, how once during a raid, a very famous individual told him – ‘Thanks for coming, I was starting to lose.’
The officer explains that the secret casino locations are denounced by angry family members or competitors but never by the gamblers. Istanbul police has now confiscated such a large quantity of roulette tables, each valued at $15,000, that there is no longer room for storage. The confiscated tables are now used as desks and coffee tables inside police stations throughout the city.
Officer Deniz sees gambling as an incurable disease and believes that stronger gambling laws with stiff penalties must be enacted to completely stamp out casinos from every corner of the country. That is highly unlikely in a country which desires entry into the European Union which would expect the eventual presence of legal online casinos in Turkey.
For now, the 62 members of the vice squad will continue to perform their 18 hour long daily task, and just like Sisyphus, will achieve the exact same result.