A study published this week by a non-profit group called Youth in Distress in Israel (ELEM) details the problems that face Israeli youth. Among those listed are teen pregnancy, sexual violence, illegal drug use, gambling, and loitering. In an effort to raise awareness of these problems, the group launched what they call their Lights of Hope Flag initiative, which involved hanging a luminous Israeli flag, composed of 600,000 lights, off the side of Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Towers.
Among the assorted problems outlined by the report, illegal gambling was one of the most prominent. Israeli gambling laws strictly regulate all forms of gambling in the country, and the country has no casinos, making legal gambling hard to come by. Despite this legal situation, gambling and most especially poker are becoming mainstream pastimes among Israeli teens.
Because of the lack of casinos, teens play on the internet. Strictly speaking there are no licensed online poker sites in Israel; officially, online gambling is limited to national lottery and the state-run sportsbook. Players, however, have no trouble signing up at sites hosted in other countries. Teens are getting so embroiled in online poker that many revert to sealing in order to cover their debts.
“Youths see gambling as an everyday hobby,” says ELEM President Nava Barak. “We at the organization know of many teenagers who have run into debts of thousands of shekels. In most cases these are instances of gambling addiction, in which the youth get drawn into theft and other criminal behavior to fund their gambling.”
“I urge the government to increase budgeting to deal with the problem,” she continued. The ELEM report calls on the Israeli government to better enforce current laws limiting gambling to persons 18 years of age and over. Unfortunately, since teens are playing at foreign-hosted internet poker sites, it is up to the site owners to enforce the regulations, because the sites lie far outside of the Israeli government’s jurisdiction.