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Countries in the Middle East, and especially those in the Arabian Peninsula, tend to be as conservative as it gets toward gambling, being governed to a great degree by Islamic law and the Islamic faith, which greatly frowns upon activities such as gambling, seeing them not only as vices but sins.
Oman is definitely in this category, and all forms of gambling here are illegal. So this is as simple as it gets as far as poker and gambling and the law goes, and the laws here are made by the Sultan, the King essentially, and the Sultan does not permit any gambling here, including betting on horse racing, in spite of several other Muslim countries who are otherwise against gambling to make an exception for horse racing based upon an interpretation of Islam that sees this particular form of gambling as acceptable.
So there are no gambling establishments at all in Oman, at least no public ones, although there is some gambling that occurs in private, behind closed doors and out of sight, or in underground facilities. (1)
So these laws are as far away as you can get from being a matter of public preference, with their being driven by strong religious beliefs, in addition to the laws here not even being subject to the will of the people anyway, even if the majority were in favor of it, and there’s no reason to think that will be the case in this country anytime soon.
If you look at the Omani penal code though you will see that things aren’t really as cut and dried as you may think. Gambling is defined as games “where chance wins over any skill or wit.” Now this is an interesting way to put it and it’s probably the case that any element of chance, where chance may determine the outcome at all, and therefore win over skill, would be the way that it would be interpreted here, although we may also read this as whether a game is won on a preponderance of skill or luck, the way that some Western courts view such things.
Enforcement Of Gambling and Poker Laws in Oman
I wouldn’t count on an interpretation of this law favorable to gambling being handed down by the courts here though, as the intention here clearly is to prohibit gambling, although it would be interesting to see how they would decide on bets placed on pure games of skill though, such as a sporting contest, as there’s no real element of chance in such things, and perhaps the same thing could be said about horse racing as well, or betting on any sporting event really.
In any case, the penalty for either running a gambling establishment or participating in gambling is pretty severe, and both are treated the same here, and given a sentence of one to three years imprisonment, which means you’ll be doing a year in prison at the very least, in addition to a fine of up to 500 Rials (about $1300 USD). (2)
So the Omani don’t mess around here with slaps on the wrist, and anyone who partakes in land based gambling anyway needs to be careful here not to get caught, obviously, and these penalties do serve to limit the amount of illegal gambling going on in Oman, as would be expected.
However, underground gambling still goes on here, and it’s more likely that these operations will get busted here, but given that there is at least somewhat of a market for this, and there is at least some money to be made from it, the fact that it’s against the law doesn’t always stop people.
In a recent raid in Muscat, the capital, 17 individuals were caught gambling, and all were arrested. It’s not the case here that the police just go after the operators of such games, and the law as written where it’s as big of a crime just to play isn’t just a scare tactic, it’s enforced that way as well. (3)
Playing Poker in Oman
It might be possible to find a live poker game in Oman, and there may be some that go on, but this at best isn’t accessible to the public generally, in the way that a casino or card room would be, and even if you do find one you risk going to prison if the game gets busted.
So this leaves online poker, which is certainly a viable option, and regardless of how opposed a country is to gambling, the prohibition of online gambling is nearly impossible to enforce.
Poker isn’t especially popular in Oman, and neither is gambling for that matter, although poker is catching on more lately in the Middle East and there are a few live poker pros from here, although the only one to achieve any real success has been Meenaskshi Subramaniam, who finished 67th at the WSOP Main Event in 2010 and pocketed $114,205, although this has been his only significant cash. (4)
Online poker is still quite a bit more popular in Oman than it is in some other Middle Eastern countries though, and there is at least a decently sized online poker contingent from here, although not nearly as many as neighboring country UAE, although most of the online poker players there are expats, and expats comprise 85% of the population there so that’s not surprising. (5)
Oman isn’t one of the countries that has been blacklisted by major poker rooms though, which is actually a little surprising, and there’s really nothing at all stopping Omani from playing all the online poker they wish to, in private from the comfort of their own home, and out of the reach of the police.
Given that this online poker, the playing itself, actually takes place on servers outside Oman, where online poker is fully legal, has persuaded some people to think that it isn’t even against the law here, but this isn’t how the legal system tends to view online gambling, as the location where the bets are placed is generally seen as material.
However, whether or not online poker is legal in Oman, and it very likely isn’t, doesn’t serve to dissuade players, as no one is getting busted for this and prohibitions against online gambling are very hard to enforce anyway.
Some countries block poker sites but this is not the case here, and while there are restrictions on internet use, gambling isn’t even included in them, even though it may be against the law otherwise. (6)
So online poker is definitely a viable option for those living in Oman who love the game or just want to try it. Although the only poker site I would even think about trying to register and play at for real money is 888 Poker. They also offer $88 FREE just for signing up and trying out the software.