In Turkey, online gambling and betting activities are primarily regulated under the Misdemeanors Law, the Turkish Criminal Code (the "Criminal Code"), Law No. 5651 on the Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publications ("Law No. 5651"), the Online Gaming Regulation (the "Regulation"), and Law No. 7258 on Betting Activities Related to Soccer and other Sports Matches as recently amended by Law No. 5583 ("Law No. 7258").
Article 34 of the Misdemeanors Law provides that any type of gambling is forbidden and any person who gambles is subject to a pecuniary fine of 100 YTL, and the gambling proceeds will be confiscated by the relevant authorities. There is no difference between online gambling and real gambling under the Misdemeanors Law. According to Article 228 of the Criminal Code, it is forbidden to supply a place and opportunity for gambling. Any person violating this rule is subject to a pecuniary fine and imprisonment of up to twelve months. This prohibition is only for the supplier (not for customers), with the recently enacted Law No. 5651, where it is emphasized that the provision of online gambling services is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code.
Under Law No. 5651, where there is sufficient doubt whether the publications on the internet constitute the crime of supplying a place and opportunity for gambling, the relevant court, and in cases of emergencies the relevant prosecutor, may order a halt to the access of the website providing such publications. If the access provider or the provider of the systems containing such publications fails to comply with that order, these providers may be sentenced to imprisonment for a period ranging between six months to two years. In the event the content provider or the provider of the systems containing such publications is located outside of Turkey, the Telecommunication Authority may ex officio order a halt to the access of the website containing such publications. If the access provider fails to comply with that order, it may be subject to an administrative fine ranging from between 10,000 YTL to 100,000 YTL.
The definition of gambling as a crime in general under Turkish criminal law consists of two elements, which differentiates a gambling activity from a simple game. First, the perpetrators must have an intention to derive pecuniary benefit and profit or loss at the end of such activity. Therefore, it is arguable that betting activities also fall within the scope of the definition of "gambling". That being said, the Regulation uses a different term, namely "gaming" with a similar definition. The term "gaming" is defined as "online games of chance that are played against cash or a playing machine and online games of chance and skill combined". The Regulation is applicable to individuals and legal entities providing online gaming services, who advertise online gaming activities, and internet service providers.
Under Article 5 of the Regulation:
(i) operation of enterprises which facilitate online gaming is prohibited and no online medium may be established to facilitate gaming;
(ii) advertisements or commercials of any party operating online gaming businesses are strictly prohibited; and
(iii) no advertisement which is misleading or encouraging online gaming is to be made.
Under these provisions, online gaming is strictly illegal in Turkey.
According to the Regulation, all acts which are classified as online gaming are monitored by a body formed under the Gaming Directorate of the National Lottery General Directorate. Inspectors of the Gaming Directorate are authorized by the Regulation to conduct investigations regarding any detected online gaming operators. The results of such investigations are sent to the legal department of the Gaming Directorate, which is authorized to communicate the same to the relevant courts, and thereby initiate criminal proceedings against the operators with the request for cessation of the relevant operator’s activities. According to the Regulation, in the event the relevant court decides to suspend the activities of the operator, the legal department of the Gaming Directorate immediately sends this decision to the Telecommunications Authority for relevant measures to be adopted (e.g. ordering the internet service provider to halt the publication of the web page).
Under Law No. 7258, online betting activities in all fields of sports contests may become legal and permissible when regulated by the General Directorate of Youth and Sports, exercising its rights through the Sport Toto Organization Chairmanship (the "Chairmanship"). The Chairmanship may even transfer the right to organize betting activities partially or wholly to private legal entities. Although legally competent, the Chairmanship is not willing to transfer its right to organize betting activities, and prefers to purchase services from private entities through distributorship or other technological support.
Therefore, the Chairmanship, entitled by an interim provision provided under Law No. 7258, has preferred to conclude a contract with private legal entities regarding the head-distributorship in relation to operating and establishing the risk management system of betting games through income/proceeds sharing until 1 March 2008. Inteltek Internet Teknoloji Yatirim ve Danismanlik Ticaret A.S. has become the preferred bidder through direct provision and continued the betting game called "Iddaa", which was established in 2004 and which includes betting for football matches both from Turkey and abroad. Inteltek conducts the marketing operations of Iddaa and Spor-Toto games; the establishment and management of sales and distributor network; the fulfillment of logistics requirements of the distribution network; the production of gaming equipment and delivery to the distribution network across Turkey; and the risk management and conduct of corporate communications of the games. After 1 March 2008, the tenders regarding the head-distributorship in relation to the operation and establishment of the risk management system of betting games will also be on the basis of income/proceeds sharing.
As additional measures against gambling and illegal betting activities, Article 5 of Law No. 7258 provides that activities of individuals or legal entities who organize or provide online gambling and betting services without having the said authorization or without following the necessary procedures under legislation, even if organized or provided outside Turkey, shall be prevented by the highest administrative authority of the relevant location and brought to the attention of public prosecutors for criminal investigation. These individuals or legal entities may be sentenced to imprisonment for a period ranging between two to five years and be subject to monetary fines as well. In addition, the same penalties will also apply to individuals and legal entities who advertise gambling/betting activities, who provide financial sources for gambling/betting activities by any means including money, fund, credit transfer services in electronic environment or assisting documents, regardless of whether or not any commission payment or compensation is received, and regardless of whether or not they were aware of the nature of the relevant transaction.
Given the history of events, the aim of the Turkish Government is to limit all online betting activities to attract more clients to the local monopoly for betting activities (i.e. İddaa) and to increase its tax income. With regard to gambling, the Turkish Government has always aimed to restrict it but the legislative amendments made so far were not fully successful. Therefore, the Government has introduced additional preventive measures with Law No. 7258, increasing the liability of the banks on fund transfers.
Under these circumstances, no other private entities are allowed to establish their own betting or gambling activities. The only option for other online betting and gambling suppliers is to obtain from the Chairmanship a license for the head-distributorship or online distributorship of the İddaa and/or Spor-Toto betting games. However, private entities who wish to obtain such license must fulfill the requirements stated in the specifications of distributorship issued by the Chairmanship. Further, such license will only legitimize the activities of online betting suppliers regarding the said games, while all other betting and gambling services of the relevant supplier will continue to be in violation of Law No. 7258 as long as they remain accessible from the same website for players domiciled in Turkey.
In light of the foregoing, the current legislation in Turkey prevents unauthorized online betting services. Betting services may only be provided in a highly regulated context, whereas gambling activities are totally prohibited so that even the official bodies are unable to grant authorizations to private legal entities allowing them to organize or provide gambling activities.
In order to prevent such illegal services with sanctions, the provision of unauthorized betting services and all kinds of gambling services are criminalized. The activities of individuals and legal entities facilitating the provision of such illegal services are also regulated and criminalized to some extent. Various administrative authorities are entitled to supervise, investigate and report websites providing gambling and betting services. Further, the liabilities of internet service providers are increased by imposing major penalties for failure to comply with the order to halt access to such websites.
However, it is notable that despite the broad wording of the relevant legislation, it is practically impossible to implement any penalty or to impose investigations with respect to activities carried out abroad, unless the relevant individuals or legal entities have any presence in Turkey.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.