"I got a Straight-Flush!" Permissibility of Online Poker?

Updated: Feb 7

Online gambling has turned into a booming industry. Statistics show that in 2019 the online gambling industry raked in 53.7 billion US dollars. Online gambling is particularly popular in Australia. Statistics show that 80% of the Australian adult population gamble and spend over $18 billion dollars a year on gambling. Furthermore, according to the same source, the average Australian adult looses close to $1000 per year in gambling. Popular online poker games include Blackjack, Texas Holdem, and if one wants to get a little crazy, Caribbean Stud Poker.

Clearly, according to Islamic law, gambling is impermissible. Allah states in the Quran: "They ask you about intoxicants and games of chance [gambling]. Say: In both of them there is great sin..." [2:219]

Using gambling instruments is also prohibited according to Islamic law. It is recorded that Imam Baqir (a) said: "All kinds of games of betting are gambling and the sale, purchase, and use of all tools of gambling is prohibited. Satan entices you towards such an act." [Tafsir Qummi] Shaheed Dastghayb in the book Greater Sins states: "There is a universal agreement among the Mujtahids that articles normally used in gambling should not be played with, even if one is not gambling."

Hence, the question arises: would playing poker games such as Texas Holdem or Carribean Stud Poker, on the computer without gambling be prohibited. The crux of the debate would be whether the online game would be considered a instrument of gambling or would the computer be considered a "mixed tool" meaning a tool that can be used for haram (such as gambling) or non-harm (such as writing this article) means.

Sayyid Khamenei was asked: "Is it haram to play gambling games (such as cards) by computer or the like on the net?" He responded: "Games that are forbidden due to gambling between the two parties are permissible if one plays through a computer alone when no betting is involved."

Sayyid Sistani was asked: "Is it permissible to play games of chance, such as...card games on electronic machines (computers / online) with betting or without betting?" He responded: "It is not permissible, and it is treated the same as normal [non-electronic] gambling instruments, if played without betting (obligatory precaution), and it is not permissible any game that involves betting."

Hence, according to Sayyid Khamenei, without betting, online card games alone would be permissible. According to Sayyid Sistani, these games would not be permissible, according to obligatory precaution, which means his followers have the option to refer to the next most knowledgable marja' for their opinion.