Betting in Yemen

Situated at the southernmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the territory known as the Republic of Yemen extends out into the waters of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, comprising some 200 islands. The national language is Arabic and the local currency is the Rial.

Yemen is something of an anomaly among Arab nations. It is the only nation in the region with a parliamentary form of government rather than being a kingdom, sultanate or emirate. But what truly sets it apart is Yemen’s unfortunate distinction of being the most impoverished country in the Arab World.

The Republic lacks the oil reserves of its neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Oman. What few resources it has are rapidly dwindling. Moreover, with a predominately Muslim population of just over 25 million, Yemen suffers from an unemployment rate of 35 percent, while its birth rate is one of the world’s highest; the average Yemeni woman bears five children. Illiteracy is pervasive, drug use is epidemic and crime is rampant.

A depressed economy and bleak prospects for any immediate recovery have led to civil unrest in the past few years. Anti-government protests began to peak in the summer of 2011. This caused Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to advise “against all travel to the whole of Yemen and advise British nationals to leave Yemen now by commercial means.” The advisory has remained in effect through March 2012.

In many ways, the deck has always been stacked against Yemen. Its status as an independent nation has been tentative at best, from the colonial rule of the ottoman Turks in the 16th century to existence as a British protectorate from 1832 to 1967. It was only in 1990 that North and South Yemen reunified to become the Republic.

Because Islam is the basis for Yemeni law, all forms of gambling are strictly forbidden. The Koran identifies gambling as “an abomination and the work of Satan.” It states that wagering on games of chance “causes the faithful to believe in luck and not Allah.” For this reason, no gambling is allowed in casinos, no wagering with bookmakers and no betting on other games of chance.

It almost goes without saying that Yemen hosts no online casinos or sportsbooks. Online gambling is neither licensed nor regulated within the country. Yemeni citizens who wish to wager online can, however, do so with foreign-registered websites, despite government attempts to suppress them.

Currently, no fewer than 443 offshore sportsbooks readily accept bets from customers with addresses in Yemen, including such majors as Bet365, Paddy Power, William Hill, Ladbrokes, BetVictor, Gamebookers and 888 Sport, to name a few. What’s more, three bookmakers offer Internet betting services in Arabic—The BetArena, VivaroBet and 1Bet2Bet.

Some observers have suggested that Yemen should take advantage of the lack of gambling opportunities in the Middle East to overcome its economic woes. One has stated that “were a casino to open in Yemen for nationals and the citizens of neighboring nations, they would undoubtedly make a fortune that would give the country a real financial boost.”

A secondary reason for embracing various forms of gambling would be to “possibly reduce some of what’s happening in the black market.” Many citizens are reportedly already wagering on sports anyway, through a small underground sports betting operation. Pirates and kidnappers are allegedly in charge of the illegal bookmaking. Why not gain control of the situation, create jobs and generate revenue at the same time?