There’s not too many places where you can play poker in the Middle East. This is due to the fact that gambling is generally restricted throughout the region, especially for local people. Tourists, on the other hand, may have more chance to find the games they are looking for. Where there are casinos in the Middle East, they tend to be well positioned in resorts or popular destinations to cater to Asian and European visitors. Indeed, many of the major poker rooms will only allow guests who bring ID and a foreign passport.
You won’t find any sanctioned poker games in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain or UAE. So bear in mind that if it’s poker you are looking for, the best places to go are Egypt or Lebanon.
Casino Du Liban
The Casino Du Liban is the only casino in Lebanon, and one of only a handful outside of Egypt. It is located in Jounieh, just 16km north of the capital city of Beirut, and is owned by Caesar’s Entertainment, one of the biggest casino brands in the world.
This is the only venue for gambling in the country. The main area and poker rooms are aimed at high rollers. Smart dress is required for many table games, though poker and slots tend to more casual. Online betting in Lebanon is limited to a single, officially licensed site, so this casino tends to be quite popular.
There are a total of six poker tables in the Casino Du Liban, making it one of the Middle East’s most happening poker rooms. The tournament schedule runs weekly, with games typically on Fridays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Buy-ins range from $300 to $500. This means the games are pretty serious, so players will need to learn the poker hand rankings and other basics before they play.
The cash games are also a big draw. Players can enter games with blind levels of $2/$5, with buy-ins of $250 – $1,500, or $5/10 blinds, with buy-ins of $500 – $2,500. The games are typically Hold ‘em, though you may occasionally find other variants such as Stud.
Egypt although known for its ancient history and structures like the Pyramids, is actually the casino capital of the Middle East. It’s the country with the richest history of gambling, with sculptures, artefacts and hieroglyphic records depicted gaming dating back to the old dynasties of at least 3,000 BC, as well as laws regulating and outlawing the practice that are equally as old. It’s clear that gambling has long been prevalent in Egyptian culture.
As such, Egypt has more casinos than every other Middle Eastern country combined, and many of these casinos have poker rooms. The rules for entry exclude locals from joining in. Players will need ID and a foreign passport to play, and the casinos operate in English with US dollars as currency. The casinos are purely for tourists, even if they are from other parts of the Middle East.
There are around 20 casinos in Egypt, though difficult times for tourism have resulted in hard times for many establishments, especially in Cairo. Casinos and poker rooms at Red Sea Resorts have tended to prosper. However, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the overall number will reduce or increase as it all depends on the economy, stability and tourism of the country.
According to the World Casino Directory, there are currently 10 casinos in Egypt that offer poker rooms. They are the Aladdin Casino and Maritim Jolie Ville Resort and Casino, Caesar’s Casino, London Club Casino, Movenpick Casino, Crockford’s, Cairo Marriott and Omar Khayyam Casino, and the Kings and Queens Casino.
Players will find games at a range of different buy-in levels across these venues. These are mostly Texas Hold ‘em, but also Caribbean poker is also popular, and Stud and 3-Card poker may also be found. Casual players will find lower buy-in games in Egypt than in Lebanon.
Israel up and coming?
Several other countries in the Middle East used to offer plenty of gambling options. Turkey had an incredible 78 major casinos at one point, before they were shut down in 1998. In fact, many countries have had their casino industry wiped out in the last few decades.
One country that never had casinos but still managed to offer gambling opportunities was Israel. For many years it was known for its gambling cruises. Ships would take off to the shores of Cyprus, where players could gamble for a while before returning to Israel, where the activity is banned. Many of these cruises were shut down in 2005, but some have since popped up again.
The city of Eilat, a popular tourist and beautiful port town on the Red Sea near Jordan, could become the next big destination for poker and casino gaming in the Middle East. Plans have been made to build a strip of casinos there, with investment for the likes of Sheldon Andelson, owner of the Venetian in Las Vegas and developer of the Cotai Strip in Macau. As of yet, there has been no news of building work starting on this development, and land-based casinos are still banned in the country.
Other forms of gambling in the Middle East
Despite a general ban on land-based and online casino and poker gaming, other forms of gambling do exist in the Middle East. Many countries that have banned other types of gambling, such as UEA and Saudi Arabia, have state raffles and lotteries. However, they are strictly regulated and must support worthy causes.
Sports betting and pari-mutuel betting are also popular, and make up an estimated 80% of the Middle East’s gambling industry. Horse racing is culturally significant across many countries, with racetracks in Dubai and Iraq, among others. The card game Kout Bo 6 is popular in Kuwait and beyond, but the betting elements are not as strong as in poker.
It’s important to remember that, generally speaking, gambling is not allowed in the Middle East. Even in places where there are plenty of poker rooms, these are aimed at tourists, and locals may be refused entry. So bear in mind that if you want to play poker in Lebanon or Egypt, you may not be able to do so with your local friends.