The fact that Iraq may not stand out on most operators’ radars could be a reason to accept players from the potentially underserved market.
Iraq is one of the few countries without even a national lottery. All forms of gambling are illegal, as the Quran explicitly forbids Muslims from relying on luck to earn money. However, authorities are stricter in some areas than they are in others, and Iraqis are very enthusiastic about the forms of gambling available to them; gambling seems to be considered a venial sin rather than a mortal one.
The current wave of liberalization sweeping the globe is extremely unlikely to hit Iraq. Religious concerns aside, the country has enough on its plate that there’s not even a whiff of legalization in the air; political instability, poor infrastructure, and an undeveloped tourism sector kick the question of gambling so far down the line it disappears over the horizon.
This means that Iraqis currently have no legal access to casino games, and will not have it in the future; offshore platforms are their only option. Visiting illegal casinos can land players in jail, while authorities make little to no effort to prosecute those who play online.
Horse racing was banned by Saddam Hussein in the 90s, but has had a resurgence in popularity since the end of the dictator’s reign. Baghdad residents visit the race track in droves for no reason other than to bet. The city of Erbil, in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, is home to the Erbil International Equestrian Club, which has allowed spectators to bet on races since 2017.
Another local favorite is cockfighting. Cockfighting rings all over the country are filled with bettors from every level of society night after night, with turnover often reaching tens of thousands of dollars.
But Iraqis aren’t just tied to tradition. Offshore operators who accept Iraqi players have found that they have plenty of enthusiasm for video slots and live dealer games, in addition to betting on sports like football. Casinos and sportsbooks that accept Iraqi players often localize their sites in Arabic or Kurdish and accept popular local payment methods.
When it comes to payments, Iraqi players often use Fastpay, Zain, Nasspay, and Ecopays. Crypto has also found footing in the country; an estimated 500,000 Iraqis hold cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Litecoin. There have been several government edicts prohibiting crypto, but these are largely ignored by the populace, who increasingly use cryptocurrencies to hold their savings, invest, and transfer money into and out of the country. The country’s political and economic instability only increases their appeal. The percentage of the populace with traditional bank accounts is very low, and there is also a significant unbanked population of migrants and refugees.
Despite the country’s political and economic situation, there are many Iraqis with the means and the will to play. The popularity of horseracing, and the people’s dedication to betting on cockfighting, indicates that many would welcome more choices for either sports betting or casino gaming, and the growing adoption of crypto shows that players would have the capacity to make deposits and withdrawals.
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