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In some countries, knowing what the law says about gambling can be a fairly complex matter. This is not the case in Saudi Arabia though. Gambling, in all its forms, is clearly illegal. Saudi Arabia is as conservative a country as they come, and if it is against the law to consume alcoholic beverages in a country, then you can bet that you won’t be allowed to gamble either.
In some countries, it may be illegal to gamble, or partake in a certain form of gambling, but this often isn’t enforced, so the activity is only illegal in theory so to speak. Even though something may be a crime, if no one is being prosecuted for it, and there does not seem to be a will to do so, and people participate in it freely, then for all practical purposes the law can be said to not even exist.
In other cases, gambling laws may be prosecuted, but the penalties involved can be pretty minor, perhaps being subject to a small fine, such that people may not worry very much about getting caught breaking gambling laws.
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy that is governed completely by Islamic law, which does not permit gambling, so gambling is simply not tolerated here, and the punishments here are on the harsh side to say the least. This is a country where people get flogged, even for things like drinking alcohol, and you are subject to being flogged for gambling as well. (1)
Even so, there is still gambling that goes on in Saudi Arabia, for instance, there are some underground brick and mortar sports betting operations that exist in this country, although you certainly don’t want to get caught betting at one of them. (2)
There may also be some private poker games that go on here, but brick and mortar poker games do expose the players to seeing the game get busted by the authorities, and once again this does not involve a very pleasant fate.
Fortunately, poker isn’t considered a capital offense in Saudi Arabia, as some crimes are, adultery for instance, so poker players don’t end up losing their heads over this, literally. (3)
Needless to say, there are no casinos or official gambling establishments here, and all land based gambling and poker playing is confined to the black market. Generally speaking, given that gambling is contrary to Islamic law, there aren’t a lot of people who play poker for money here, although there are still some that do, and more and more so lately.
For instance, if you know the right people, it’s not that hard to find a game in Jeddah, where underground poker games ranging from modest stakes to some fairly high stakes operate regularly. (4)
So in spite of the most strict anti-gambling laws imaginable, attitudes are changing in Islamic countries towards it, especially among younger people, and while this is more the case in some other Arab countries, it even extends to Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most conservative of them all.
Online Poker in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabians do partake in online poker as well, although as is the case with the underground live poker scene, it is quite a bit less popular than in more liberal countries. Still though, there are a fair number of Saudi Arabians that do play online poker regularly though, and opportunities do exist to partake in this.
The Saudi government does employ filters to block internet access to a great number of foreign websites, including poker ones, but these filters are said to not always work the way they should, and players are also known to use workarounds to them in order to gain access to foreign online poker sites.
So poker sites may be banned but banning isn’t always as effective as those who seek to ban it would like.
Once they have downloaded the online poker software, then that’s all it takes to be able to play online poker whenever you want, as the software itself is internet based but not web site domain based, so this is beyond the reach of any country’s website filters.
Due to the lack of the popularity of gambling here, poker isn’t really all that well known, so that does serve to limit the popularity of online poker to a considerable degree. (5)
The poker sites themselves are of course not located in Saudi Arabia or any other Islamic country so they could care less about complying with Islamic law, and poker is legal in the countries that they operate in, so it does not matter to them whether or not it is legal where you live.
A representative from PokerStars was quoted as saying that it is the player’s responsibility to decide for themselves whether poker is legal or not where they live, and therefore, in other words, they bear the responsibility for this, not the poker site.
Even though we’ve seen some situations, such as with the U.S., where poker sites will not accept players from a certain country due to what is essentially a fear of the countries’ government, this is not the case with Saudi Arabia and poker sites will generally accept players from Saudi Arabia.
As far as the risk of a flogging for playing online poker, all the government can really do is look to limit your access, save for breaking into your house and catching you playing at PokerStars or a similar site.
So while it‘s definitely against the law to do this, there are simply some folks who don’t want the government telling them they can’t play online poker, and find a way to do it anyway, and this really isn’t all that difficult no matter what country you live in, as VPN’s, or virtual private networks, take people from any country, even Saudi Arabia.