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The United Arab Emirates, also known as simply the UAE, is a collection of former states that banded together in 1971 to form a single country. Although the UAE has a population of 9.2 million, only 1.4 million are citizens, with 7.8 million being expatriates. In spite of the country’s small size geographically, they have the seventh largest oil reserves in the world, and also the seventh highest per capita GDP in the world, so it’s one of the wealthiest spots on the planet overall.
With all this wealth, this would make the UAE particularly suitable to gambling, particularly in Dubai, which attracts a lot of tourists. However, gambling is prohibited in the UAE, and strictly prohibited at that.
So while some countries have a pretty complex set of gambling laws, it doesn’t get any simpler than in the United Arab Emirates, you aren’t allowed to gamble on anything, period. This is a strictly Muslim country and they take the strictest view of gambling that Muslim countries take.
So while some Muslim countries do permit fairly wide scale gambling, and others may permit it on a limited basis, for instance on horse racing, others do not permit it at all, and the UAE is one of these countries. The UAE does have horse racing tracks by the way, but you’re only allowed to watch, not bet. (2)
The only thing resembling gambling here is the odd raffle that you might see, although this requires explicit permission from the government to conduct. Raffles are of course not gambling, at least not in the way we think of gambling anyway, but they are even very careful to make sure that none of this is conducted in any way which would suggest that gambling is going on.
Those found to be gambling in the UAE, which is defined as a game where the participants agree to pay a sum of money or anything else of value based upon the outcome, become subject to both a fine and imprisonment, with more severe penalties handed out to those running gambling establishments, who face a sentence of up to 10 years.
The fines alone can be substantial though, which run up to 20,000 dirhmas, or about $5500 USD, although gambling in a public place is seen as more serious of a crime then just gambling in public, for instance in a home poker game.
So needless to say there are no poker rooms that you can go to that are licensed, although there is some underground poker that goes on here, as evidenced by a recent bust of an underground poker operation, where 16 people were jailed.
12 of the players were jailed for three months for playing poker, while 4 of them were found to have downloaded software to play online poker, and they received a total of 12 months in jail for this crime.
Playing Online Poker in the UAE
So needless to say, when you can spend a year in jail for downloading online poker software, this is serious to say the least, and players may want to take that into account when they decide if they want to play online poker or not when in the UAE, whether living there or just visiting.
The UAE is said to have the most comprehensive “cyber crime” laws in the world, and among other things, this covers the transmission of gambling information, and playing online poker is clearly seen as falling within this definition, as evidenced by these 4 who were thrown in jail for attempting to play online.
Having said that though, it’s not that easy to catch people doing this, and in the case of this conviction the parties were in the business of organizing both live and online poker matches in the city, which is likely how they got caught, as the word no doubt spread to the wrong people, who then moved in on them.
Top Poker Sites for UAE Residents?
Caution is certainly advised here if you wish to partake in online poker in this country. If you’re looking to take a chance – and it’s honestly not even what most would consider a “big chance” given the inability of the UAE authorities to crack down on online gaming – then PokerLaws.org definitely recommends sites like 888 Poker or Natural8 Gaming if you’re looking to get your gambling fix.
The United Arab Emirates also are not shy about blocking all sorts of websites that they feel are inappropriate, and this is a pretty big net as you might imagine in such an ultra conservative country, but while gambling and online poker sites are listed among those that the authorities seek to block, the word is that they actually don’t block gambling sites at all, at least at the present time.
While players here still seek the security of connecting to poker websites through a VPN, which means connecting to a server in another country which hides your internet activity beyond this site, it is illegal to use a VPN here, so you need to worry about that as well. (4)
This doesn’t mean it’s that easy for them to catch you using a VPN either, but it does show how serious the UAE government is to control the internet activities of its residents. Given how severe the effort is here, it’s probably not bound to change in the near future.