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Calls to Legalise Poker Clubs in Norway Grow Louder after Firebombing

An underground poker club in Oslo, was hit with a Molotov cocktail earlier this week, in a further sign of the growing involvement of organised crime in Norway’s gambling sector.

The attack has led to calls for Norway to legalise poker clubs and bring the multitude of poker games that pervade the capital into the light.

Danish porker site, PNN, reports that an unknown person threw an “incendiary bomb through a window and directly into one of Oslo’s small poker clubs”. Five players and one dealer were in the room at the time, although no one was harmed in the incident.

Norway has some of the strictest gambling and poker laws in Europe, and some say that is precisely what’s to blame for driving organised crime into the game.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate that something like this happens. We believe that it is a consequence of Norway’s gaming policy,” said Sigurd Eskeland from the Norwegian Poker Prohibition group, which is actively campaigning to liberalise poker clubs in the country. “We want to legalise poker, so it can be played in a safe environment – even here in Norway. Today’s gaming policy is outdated and must be adapted to new times.”

Gambling in Norway is for the most part illegal, with the exception of Norsk Tipping and Norsk Rikstoto, which are the two only companies allowed to offer gambling services in the country.

Both are state-owned monopolies run by the Ministry of Culture and Church affairs, and have strict rules around who can gamble and how much they’re allowed to bet. But while it’s legal to hold private poker games at home, large scale commercial operations are strictly outlawed.

Norway has made all forms of online gambling illegal and is in June 2010 the Norwegian government passed a law that forced all banks in Norway to deny the customers the use of credit and debit cards at land and online casinos all over the world.

World-renowned Norwegian poker player, Thor Hansen, believes that this strict policy against poker in the country, is contributing to the growth of organised crime.

In February, he told PNN, “Unfortunately it is not legal to play poker in Norway… Eventually the politicians must surely surrender. Hopefully [this] happens when there is a new government – it must happen soon. I get angry when I think of that Norsk Tipping [h]ave so much power that they have. They are the ones that drive mafia business.”

However, Norway isn’t the only country suffering from the effects of organised crime on its poker games. On the same day as the bombing in Oslo, FBI agents stormed an illegal poker club in Manhattan, arresting several Russian nationals believed to be connected to the mafia.

The individuals arrested were said to be in charge of high-stakes poker games in the city which included unnamed celebrities and “very wealthy individuals working in the financial industry”.

In the 84-page indictment, US prosecutors accuse the men of laundering money through bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus, routing funds back and forth through Russia. The unnamed celebrities, athletes and financiers are not accused of participating in the criminal enterprise.

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Bradley Chalupski

Bradley Chalupski made his first deposit onto an online poker site in 2009 and has been paying rake and following the poker scene ever since. He received his J.D. from the Seton Hall University School of Law in 2010.