Israeli Casino Mogul Turns Socialist Politician

Avi Shaked, an Israeli billionaire online gambling entrepreneur, recently announced that he will run in the primaries for the left-of-center Israeli Labor Party.

Shaked made a name for himself last year, when he and his family made over 90 million dollars by going public with their online casino on the London Stock Exchange.  The family retained holdings of over 250 million dollars in the casino, which is the biggest in the world.  

The Shaked family-owned casino was conceived at a dentistry convention in 1996 when Avi’s brother Aaron decided that owning an online gambling venue would be a more profitable venture than dentistry.  The Shaked brothers remortgaged their homes to finance the fledgling company. 

Although Shaked’s announcement of his candidacy for the Labor Party primaries may come as a shock to those unfamiliar with the background of the online casino mogul, others are less surprised.  Shaked has been intensely interested in politics for many years.  He has been a member of the Labor Party for the past 24 years, since 1981. 

Shaked’s political experience also includes his role as a pivotal member of a group of businessmen who backed the Geneva Initiative, or Geneva Accord.  This project was a non-governmental, and therefore unofficial, attempt to find a solution to peace in the Middle East.  The plan proposed shrinking Israel to its 1967 borders, returning the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, in return for Palestinian renunciation of the Right to Return.  The Geneva Accord, in fact, received the cold shoulder from the Israeli government and public; the government rejected it outright, while even the liberal Labor Party declined to offer public support. 

Although Shaked’s worth is estimated to be in the ballpark of 1.6 billion dollars, he claims to speak on behalf of Israel’s underprivileged classes.  His campaign slogan bills him as a “Proud, Socialist Millionaire,” and his platform is focused on class-based issues.  He promises to raise the minimum wage, in addition to other legal reforms that will help the poor.  He also supports cutting defense spending in order to pad the education budget. “They say I´m a millionaire. That´s true, and I´m not ashamed of it, but first and foremost I’m a socialist,” Shaked said.

Political commentators in Israel are quick to point out the inherent irony of a socialist millionaire.  They draw attention to the fact that, surely, being a successful online gambling venue founder, Shaked must understand that an unfettered capital market is important to Israel’s booming high-tech industry.  They also point out that much of Israel’s pension system is tied to those of non-Socialist countries.  A socialist economy would wreak havoc on the entire pension system, experts warn.

Whatever the inconsistency, pundits predict that Shaked’s candidacy will help to draw voters to the Labor party, moderating the brand of socialism represented by its strike-loving leader Amir Peretz. 

And, now, for the million dollar question: Where does Shaked stand on the legalization of online gambling?  He is, as of yet, undecided.      


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