Betting in Saudi Arabia

With an estimated population of 27.5 million people, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ranks as the 14th largest country in the world. It is located on the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. Arabic is the national language and the local currency is the Riyal.

Since the 18th century, the House of Saud has been one of the leading families on the Peninsula. When they helped the British government put an end to Ottoman Turk power and influence in the area during World War One, the Saudis rose to power, eventually forming a government and officially naming the country Saudi Arabia in 1932. One of their first acts was to install the Wahhabist version of Sunni Islam as the national religion.

Today, there are some 7,000 individuals who claim to be part of the Saudi Royalty, although only about 200 hold substantial political power by virtue of their blood relation to the King’s line of succession. The current King, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, was enthroned in 2005 and at age 87 entering 2012, he is one of the oldest ruling monarchs in the world.

As a Muslim nation, Saudi Arabia allows no form of gambling within its borders. The Koran calls gambling the 14th Greater Sin, “an abomination and the work of Satan.” wagering on games of chance “causes the faithful to believe in luck and not Allah.” What’s more, Muslims believe that each person’s fate is pre-determined, not subject to chance, so wagering on random events is a direct contradiction of Islamic doctrine.

Because Islam’s most holy city, Mecca, is located in Saudi Arabia, the Saudis are perhaps even more fervent in their interpretation of the ban on betting than any other Muslim nation. Not even horse racing, for which the Prophet Mohammed made a special exception, is permitted to offer any form of betting.

Interestingly enough, the Saudis still take great interest in racing, and they breed some of the finest thoroughbreds in the world. Established in 1965, the Equestrian Club of Riyadh is the nation’s leading racecourse operator and a member of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) based in France. Article 28 of the IFHA's International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering covers the possibility of cross-border betting as follows:

“Wagering opportunities shall only be offered in another country with the express consent of that country's relevant governmental authorities, if required, and in compliance with the legal and regulatory requirements of that country.”

In other words, no one outside Saudi Arabia may bet on races conducted inside the Kingdom without royal permission. That accounts for why bookmakers worldwide do not offer markets for the races conducted in Riyadh.

The Internet has posed a special concern for the Saudi government. They recognise the power of web sites to “corrupt” and have therefore gone to great lengths to protect the country’s citizenry not only from online sportsbooks and casinos but also from sites promoting pornography, drug use and religious conversion. State-of-the-art filtering systems are used to block access to such venues.

Nevertheless, there will always be those willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want. Despite government blockage some 462 sportsbooks based abroad still accept bets from customers with Saudi Arabian addresses. In fact, three offer services in Arabic—VivaroBet, The BetArena and 1Bet2Bet.

Those who choose to wager online could quite literally be taking their lives in their own hands. In 2011, seven Indian and Pakistani nationals set up a secret lottery and “gambling den” in the Saudi city of Jeddah. A police raid resulted in their arrests, and one report states they face penalties ranging from “beheading, stoning, (and) chopping off body parts” to “possible life imprisonment after being caned or whipped.”

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