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Lebanon does have legal gambling, in spite of having a large percentage of its population following the Islamic religion, although unlike most Middle Eastern countries, Muslims only represent about half of the population here, so the influence of Islam is less.
It’s not that gambling is wide open here though, as while they do have a decent sized casino, the Casino du Liban in Jounieh, legal gambling for Lebanese is restricted to either gambling there or playing the lottery. (1)
The restrictions here have a lot more to do with money rather than ideology though, as the government owns a big stake in the casino, and gets a lot of tax revenue from it, so they granted a monopoly to the operation and maintain this monopoly.
They do not want any competition from other gambling sources, and take in over $100 million a year from the casino, which they guard pretty fiercely. Even though it may seem to be a good idea for them to allow an expansion of land based gambling here, they see other enterprises as not just sources of tax revenue but as competition as well, due to their ownership stake in the existing casino.
There is another casino in Lebanon though, the Orient Queen, a luxury ship that sails out of Beirut, and of course with the betting all taking place out to sea, this is outside the jurisdiction of the Lebanese government. (2)
Gambling cruises generally don’t run if the market within an area is being satisfied, and therefore the mere existence of this may suggest that there is room for expansion on dry land, and if the Lebanese government insists on a stake, as they did with the Casino du Liban, there’s no reason why they couldn’t probably put a deal like that together again, which by the way was massively in favor of the government.
The biggest reason to expand land based gambling, and online gambling as well here, is to capture the large sports betting market that has recently been shut out. There are no land-based sports betting operations here, but up until 2013 Lebanese players could play all they wanted to online, but recently the government stepped in and made online gambling illegal and also started blocking these sites. (3)
This was all about maintaining a monopoly though, and players would not only be betting on sports online, something that wasn’t offered here and still isn’t, they’d also be playing online poker and playing at online casinos, which the government felt impacted their take.
It probably did, but the plan should have been to regulate online gambling here, and get a piece of that action, but as is the case with expanding land based gambling as well, they just don’t want any expansion of any kind here.
The Poker Scene In Lebanon
Aside from the national lottery, aptly named ‘Play Lebanon,’ has given a monopoly on online gambling in Lebanon, the only site that wasn’t blocked was an online poker site called Stars of Holdem, which although based out of Costa Rica, was owned by a Lebanese businessman who paid taxes to them on it.
This site is out of operation now though and we’re down to zero approved online gambling and online poker sites, other than the Play Lebanon lottery site. The rest are blocked, and unlike some countries which only make a half hearted effort to block online gambling sites, they do a very good job of it here.
Almost everyone has access to the internet here, unlike many countries in the world, and Lebanon has worked hard to build its telecommunications infrastructure over the last few years, going from less than half of the country having access in 2009 to virtually everyone now. (4)
So in spite of this wide access, where pretty much everyone would have access to online poker sites, the government has at least attempted to shut out online poker players, making them travel to the one casino, or on the casino cruise ship, both of which offer a limited amount of live poker anyway. The Casino de Liban offers regular poker tournaments, and together with the internet, poker has really caught on in popularity in Lebanon. (5)
There are also a few famous poker pros that are of Lebanese descent, including WSOP main event champion Joe Hashem, Sam Farha, who finished second at the main event and has won 3 WSOP bracelets, as well as Freddy Deeb who has won a couple of bracelets there. So these ambassadors have also helped spread the popularity of poker here. (6)
Online Poker in Lebanon
There is also a fair number of Lebanese poker players that play online, and in spite of the government’s efforts to block them, this doesn’t tend to do much to stop people from playing online, and a lot of players are simply connecting to the poker sites through virtual private networks, with servers in other countries that don’t have such restrictions.
In fact you can pick from a number of countries that you want to connect to the internet from, and this technique is widely used by poker players in many countries that have such restrictions placed upon poker sites and gambling sites. However, there are some poker sites, for example, on Asian networks like GGN that have various poker sites you can sign up at with no need for VPN’s.
This isn’t lost on the government though and there is talk now of looking to regulate and tax it, like many other countries have done, especially in Europe where this has really caught on now. Since the Lebanese government is driven by tax revenue when it comes to gambling, and they have no problem with people gambling as long as they get their take from it, well they aren’t getting any take from the online gambling that goes on now, their efforts to stop it can be easily defeated by players, but if they allow it and regulate it then they can increase their coffers that way.
This is a ways off though at best, but in the meantime, Lebanese online poker players will simply have to keep using virtual private networks, or VPN’s, to hook up to their favorite poker sites. Due to the continuing popularity of online poker here, players still have a wide selection of poker sites to choose from, so things aren’t really so bad for now.