The Middle East is comprised of several countries. The vast majority of them have Islam as the predominant religion, and according to the Quran, gambling is prohibited. Gambling laws in the Middle East vary from country to country, but for the most part, you will find very few gambling options. The pastime is usually barred to local residents altogether and can only be accessed – in a limited manner – by visitors, if at all.
We take a look at gambling laws in the Middle East, country by country:
Most forms of gambling are prohibited by Algerian legislation, which bases its laws on Sharia law – making it absolutely forbidden to gamble. However, scratch the surface, and you’ll see that there are certain exceptions in this North Africa country. You’ll find some types of state-sanctioned lotteries which benefit local sports organizations, throughout this massive country – home to over 40 million residents. There are no specific laws that cover online gambling in Algeria, although it is implicitly banned. However there are no known incidences of players being prosecuted by authorities for playing at off-shore online betting sites.
Bahrain bans all forms of gambling, including sports betting, despite this being such a sports-mad country. Every year, some 8 million people visit this country, many of them to watch the annual Bahrain Grand Prix. It stands to reason that some betting takes place, albeit illegally. But the laws are harsh against anyone caught gambling in a public place, including prison time and heavy fines. Commercial outlets that host gambling activities could lose their licenses. Local players will also find it almost impossible to wager at offshore internet sites due to the government’s strong censorship policy on everything online related.
Cyprus has some of the most gambling-friendly laws in the Middle East. Its Betting Law of 2012 appointed the National Betting Authority which supervises all gambling activities. While online casinos, poker and exchange betting are banned, online sports betting is allowed and regulated. Since the change in the laws, scores of gambling licenses have been issued and there are over 35 legal gambling facilities available in total. Cypriots may play at casinos and bet at horseracing tracks and in sports betting parlors. Most of the casinos are located in Northern Cyprus.
In comparison to many Middle East countries, Egypt has more gambling options for its residents. The Egyptian National Post Organization offers sports betting, while lotteries, operated by the Lottery Coalition, are fully legal. When it comes to brick-and-mortar casinos, there are many of them scattered around the country, however only foreign passport holders are allowed to access them. These casinos are the responsibility of the Egyptian Tourism Authority. Many offshore online betting operators accept Egyptian players who enjoy frequenting these sites. Online gambling is not regulated in Egypt, making it simpler for residents of this country to enjoy online betting than others in the region.
By law, Iraq’s Penal Code states that anyone participating in gambling activities will be punished with a fine and/or prison sentence. However, on the ground, gambling is quite popular and authorities generally turn a blind eye to these activities. Residents bet on horse racing, camel racing and other sports. At present, there is one casino in operation, located in the northern Kurdish region. While online gambling is implicitly illegal in Iraq, the government doesn’t arrest players for gambling online at foreign sites.
Iran is one of the toughest countries when it comes to gambling legislation and it’s known to be one of the countries with the most hostile laws towards gambling. The country has no legal gambling options, and the pastime was specifically made illegal under the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Online betting is off the cards for everyone, due to the government’s harsh crackdown and its censorship of the internet. Those caught operating a gambling website or playing at these sites are subject to various penalties. There is no form of land-based gaming available at all, and authorities even went so far as to shut down a state television’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire after deciding that it resembled forbidden ‘games of chance’.
Israel, as a mainly secular country with advanced democratic laws and freedom of speech and movement, allows two types of legal gambling – participating in the National Lottery and sports betting. Israelis can also play casino games on dedicated cruise ships that are docked in major ports and go out into international waters for just that purpose. Any Israeli that wants to, can access foreign gambling websites, despite the government’s half-hearted attempts to block these sites, and there are even some online casinos offering versions in the Hebrew language! Gambling is so wide-spread and popular in Israel that it is only a matter of time that legal casinos will be built.
By law, most forms of gambling are considered illegal in Jordan. However, this doesn’t stop many residents from playing at online betting sites (located off-shore) with there being no restrictions on them accessing foreign gambling sites. Jordanians are banned from gambling in public places, although no mention of the ban is made when it takes place in private. There have been attempts in the past to build brick-and-mortar casino resorts in a bid to attract tourist dollars, but there was strong opposition to the idea and nothing has ever come of the idea. Jordan runs a national lottery and allows bingo games to take place, and so it can be concurred that the kingdom takes a slightly more lenient approach to gambling compared to other Middle East countries overall.
Kuwait is another Middle Eastern country which frowns on any type of gambling. There have been many reports of the arrest and imprisonment of people who operated or played at illegal casinos. The government is aware of the pull of online gambling, especially among the country’s youngsters and has tried to crack down even further. Some politicians, however, are pushing for some type of change, including the construction of land-based casino resorts to service foreign visitors. It will still be a while before we see any major change in Kuwait’s gambling laws, however.
In comparison to its neighbors, Lebanon takes a fairly lenient view to gambling. Residents are allowed to gamble legally at the Casino du Liban, which offers table games and slot machines. Luxury cruise ships with casino facilities also regularly go out into international waters. Lottery tickets are sold online by Lebanon’s sole operator of lottery games, which is the holder of the only license in the country to operate an online gambling site. To protect its monopoly on online gambling, the Lebanese government took steps to block access to foreign gaming sites.
Any type or gambling in Oman is illegal, whether a game of skill or a game of chance. The penalty for playing or operating a casino business is a mandated minimum of one year sentence and could increase. Despite the strict laws, Omanis get their gambling fix from entering different types of lottery-type contests which are legal. There is no sports betting or land based casinos in Oman. The government makes some attempt to block online gambling, but is not very successful. As such, some Omanis are known to gamble online and there is no report of anyone ever being prosecuted for doing so.
The strictly Islamic state of Qatar uses Sharia to decide on the country’s policy towards gambling. Even though sports is extremely popular in Qatar, it is illegal to place bets on any sport, ranging from horse racing to cricket. Camel racing is also highly popular, and a thriving black-market sports betting industry has grown around this sport. As far as online gambling is concerned, the Qatari authorities follow the lead of similar Islamic countries – publicly declaring that gambling is illegal but turning a blind eye to the number of locals who frequent offshore online casinos to play casino games and poker, and to bet on sports.
The absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia dictates the strict Islamic, anti-gambling laws in the country. As a result, you won’t find state-licensed casinos, bookies, racetracks or poker rooms. The exception, albeit illegal one, is betting at the two horse racing tracks in Saudi Arabia – one in Riyadh and the other in Taif. Offshore sports betting sites tap into the popularity of sports such as football and horse-racing in the kingdom and offer odds on local matches and races. Saudi Arabia takes a very strong stance against anyone caught gambling, and even harsher ones against operators.
Internal strife and a bloody civil war in recent years have put the question of enforcing gambling laws on the back burner in Syria. While gambling is technically banned by law, nobody is enforcing the ban, including online gambling. The reason that online gambling isn’t more popular is due to the country’s poor internet infrastructure. Popular land-casinos once operated in some of Syria’s major cities but were shut down by zealous religious clerics. If Syria’s conflict ever ends, we may see the return of these gambling establishments, but for now locals need to be content with unofficial gambling dens and internet gambling when it can be accessed.
In an unexpected move, Turkey passed a law banning all casinos in 1996, essentially wiping out a $1 billion industry. In 2009, the government banned online gambling, although attempts to carry out the ban have resulted in limited success. As such, hundreds of offshore gambling sites cater to Turkish players. The government regulates certain games of chance such as Milli Piyango, the National Lottery and Hemen-Kazan, instant-win games. These activities are run by the National Lottery Administration. Spor Toto Association, overseen by the Ministry of Sports, allows sports betting. Horse racing betting is also allowed, although it is also strictly regulated. The government has also granted permission to the state-owned gambling company, IDDAA to run online gambling services. Anyone found partaking in illegal gambling activities runs the risk of jail time and or/a fine and/or having their winnings confiscated.
United Arab Emirates
Gambling in any shape or form – with very few exceptions – is not permissible in the UAE. The government allows some organizations to run competitions and raffles, as long as they have express permission from the relevant regulatory bodies. Wagers can also be placed under specific circumstances, such as racing, shooting, sports and competitions of strength. These competitions are strictly regulated, with very specific rules pertaining to the size of the prize, the winners and who will benefit from the participation. Unlike other countries in the Middle East, the UAE has separate laws that relate to online gambling. Its Cyber Crimes Law sets out penalties (prison and/or fine) for anyone caught operating an online gambling business. Internet Service Providers are required by law to block websites that provide illegal content, and that includes gambling related content.
Yemen rounds off our list of countries in the Middle East where, by and large, and with very few exceptions, gambling is considered illegal. The country uses internet censoring technology to block ‘inappropriate’ sites, including online gambling platforms. There have been unconfirmed reports that some online poker rooms have members from Yemen, although it would certainly be going against the country’s laws for locals to wager online in any form. You also won’t find land-based casinos of any kind, although illegal gambling dens do exist.