Can you gamble in the UAE?

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Casinos and online gaming sites are illegal in the United Arab Emirates, but how well is that enforced? Lucky Nugget takes a look at the world of betting in the UAE to find out more, including the penalties faced for breaking the law and the lucrative world of horse racing.

What the law says

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Most of the United Arab Emirates’ laws are based on passages from the Quran, which explicitly prohibits gambling. As a result, casinos are illegal in the country and all websites facilitating gambling are blocked. It can be quite a surprise for tourists who visit the country to suddenly find that they can’t access online casinos anymore.

Since 2012, the Sheikh Khalifa degree has cracked down on internet content within the country. It’s illegal to use the internet to transmit, promote or publish indecent content, which includes pornography and gambling websites. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many gaming sites are actually still accessible, but using them can land you two years in prison or a fine of 20,000 dirhams (CA $7,150 / NZ $7,640) – and the UAE is one of only four countries which actively prosecutes gamers for playing online.

Against this background of strict regulation, it’s no surprise that UAE citizens are eager to find other ways to gamble. As one of the richest countries in the world, there are many wealthy people who want the chance to splash their cash. So while the government have the means to enforce the gambling laws, which do make all forms of gambling illegal, race betting has found ways to slip through the cracks.

Horse race betting

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The Dubai World Cup is the most famous horse race in the UAE, which has a prize purse of USD $10 million – making it the richest horse race in the world. Thoroughbred horses race around a 2km dirt track, and more than 50,000 people can attend the race at Meydan Racecourse. The government subsidizes the racing industry, and as a result there’s a lot of foreign investment.

Despite betting on races being illegal within the UAE, many foreign bookies offer odds on the race. Tourists or expats often use this as a way to place bets despite the laws in place, phoning up operators in different countries and placing bets through them. While this behavior would also be illegal for UAE citizens, it’s also difficult to stop – especially if you ask a friend to place the bet on your behalf.

The only legal way to gamble

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If you really want to experience the thrill of random luck in the UAE, then enter one of the ubiquitous raffles. There are many promotional events and lotteries available, where you pay a nominal amount of money for the random chance to win extravagant prizes. Large sums of money, fancy holidays, or luxury cars are all available through random luck contests.

Although many other countries count prize draws as gambling, they are permissible in the UAE. The lucky draws are therefore another way for people to dodge the gambling restrictions.

While Lucky Nugget cannot condone gambling in a country where it is explicitly illegal, it is interesting to note that people will still try and wager whenever and however they can. Betting on races through overseas operators is a possible way to enjoy betting in the UAE too – but it’s best not to be on the wrong side of their gambling laws.