There are seven Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf. They are Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
If you’ve ever visited any of these countries, you’re probably familiar with just how stringent their laws are in general.
Although betting is allowed in some of these countries, gambling is outright illegal in most cases.
Even in places where you can find casinos and poker rooms spreading Texas Hold’em, these are not available to local citizens but just for international tourists.
Overall, there are many things to pay attention to if you want to avoid getting in trouble with the law.
With all of this in mind, we’ll talk about poker’s current state in Gulf countries and take a brief look at poker’s history in each of them.
A Brief History of Poker in the Gulf Countries
You can generally assume that poker and all other gambling forms have been illegal in all Islamic countries through the ages.
According to the Quran, Muslims aren’t allowed to engage in any gambling activities.
But, with the globalization that has been happening over the past half a century, Gulf countries have come closer to popular Western activities, including poker.
There have been some attempts to popularize gambling over the years, most notably in Iraq, although the Gulf War put an end to all such efforts, with no casinos opening in this country following the war’s onset.
So, what can you expect in terms of poker content if you visit any of these seven countries?
The Current State of Poker in the Gulf
Although most Gulf countries have a reasonably similar stance towards poker, the game’s legality and the particular outlets where you can try it vary from country to country.
To make sure we cover everything to the tiniest detail, we’ll talk about the current state of poker in the Gulf separately for every individual country.
United Arab Emirates
Known simply as the UAE, the United Arab Emirates is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Despite being in the top ten countries in terms of per capita GDP and having a strong tourism industry, the UAE strictly prohibits all forms of gambling on its soil.
The closest thing you can experience to gambling in the UAE is raffle games.
Even these activities are heavily regulated by the government and can be found in very few places.
Plus, since the UAE has one of the most comprehensive online laws, playing poker on the internet is also not a viable option.
Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most conservative country in the Persian Gulf. However, poker isn’t as popular in Saudi Arabia as in other countries mentioned in this article.
Poker and gambling in all of its forms are outright illegal.
This means that the only way to enjoy a few poker hands is to play in an underground casino or at an offshore site, hoping you don’t get caught.
The only bright side is that poker in Saudi Arabia, unlike in the UAE, isn’t considered a capital offense. So, if you get caught playing online, at least you won’t be facing serious jail time or a death sentence.
Similar to the previously described countries, gambling is illegal in all forms in Oman. However, unlike other Gulf countries, Oman doesn’t pay much attention to what goes on online.
Both Omanis and tourists can engage in online poker at some of the most popular poker sites and online casinos.
Currently, gambling is strictly forbidden in this country. As a devoted Islamic country, Qatar outlaws all forms of gambling, including poker.
This policy applies to both locals and tourists visiting the country.
In line with this, even online gambling and poker sites are illegal in Qatar. Nevertheless, you can still find quite a few underground and illegal places to play poker when visiting the country, although we strongly recommend staying away from such activities.
In entertainment circles, Bahrain is mostly known for being the host of the annual Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
Despite hosting such a significant and globally popular event each year, Bahrain has a complete ban on all gambling activities.
But, unlike Qatar, Bahrain isn’t so stringent when it comes to online gambling.
So, if you’re visiting Bahrain, you’ll be happy to know that you can still play your favorite card games on an offshore site of your choice.
That said, it’s very unlikely that Bahrain will loosen its poker laws any time soon and open up any land-based poker rooms.
Out of all the Islamic countries in the Gulf, Iraq has perhaps the most permissive stance when it comes to poker.
But, the odd thing is that, even though Iraqis are entirely free to play at online poker sites and casinos, poker isn't really a big part of the Iraqi culture, and the country doesn’t have a significant player base.
Kuwait closely follows many other Islamic countries when it comes to prohibiting all gambling activities on its soil.
You won’t find any land-based casinos or poker rooms in the country nor any legal Kuwaiti-operated online casinos.
Despite this heavy censorship, online poker is very present in Kuwait and is enjoyed by locals and foreigners visiting the country alike.
This is because playing poker at offshore sites is a very popular pastime here and something that the Kuwaiti government hasn’t yet cracked down on.
Known as oil-rich lands, many Persian Gulf countries have heavily relied on oil to power their economy.
However, over the past few decades, most of the seven countries we’ve talked about above have switched to other industries, namely tourism and entertainment.
Even so, gambling in Gulf countries is still a touchy topic, and it’s hard to see that the legality of poker will change in any of these places anytime soon, especially when it comes to brick-and-mortar poker rooms.
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