Whilst gambling and betting is something that people in the United Kingdom have come to enjoy doing with their time, the same isn’t true all around the world. Despite its illegality, it is not uncommon to find illicit gambling taking place, even in countries where gambling is legal, like the United Kingdom.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that underground betting thrives in areas where gambling is banned. Throughout history, gambling has sparked controversy, resulting in varying degrees of legality and social acceptance across different nations.
Whilst many countries have embraced regulated gambling industries, there are still several places where gambling remains strictly forbidden. These countries uphold their stringent anti-gambling laws for a variety of reasons, including religious beliefs, societal order and control.
The severity of these laws is evident in the punishments imposed on individuals caught engaging in illegal gambling activities. However, due to the desire to maintain secrecy, information about these penalties is not always publicly known. What we do know is where it is that gambling is frowned upon to the point that it is completely against the local laws and customs.
Looking At The Countries
Here is a look at the countries we know of where gambling is not ok, according to the laws of said country at the time of writing.
The majority of countries on this list have forbidden gambling because of their ties to the Quran on account of them being locations were Islam is the majority faith. That is not the case with Cuba, which was actually one of the main locations for gambling during the 1940s and 1950s.
Known as the ‘Las Vegas of the Caribbean’, it was only when Fidel Castro came to power that all of that stopped. This is likely because the casinos were run by American gangsters and Castro, unlike Fulgencio Batista, who he overthrew for control of the country, hated America and Americans.
The main piece of law surrounding gambling in Cuba is ‘Ley 86 1959*’, which forbids it and suggests that players can be fined or sent to prison if they are discovered. It isn’t surprising that a Communist country might find one of the most capitalist activities that you can possibly do something of a problem and against their morals.
That being said, the citizens are happy enough to engage in a bit of illegal betting, with cock fighting gaining popularity in some of the more rural areas in the countryside. If they’re found, though, they can expect the book to be thrown at them.
United Arab Emirates
In spite of the fact that news broke in 2023 that the casino and hotel operator from Las Vegas, Wynn Resorts Limited, were hoping to be able to open a ‘gaming resort’ in the United Arab Emirates, the reality is that major changes would need to take place in the country for that to happen. As things current stand, the fact that the U.A.E. is a strict Muslim country means that gambling is forbidden there.
If you were to engage in some form of betting then you would fall foul of Penal Code’s Article 414, meaning that you could face as much as two years in prison as well as a fine.
It is easy enough to stop people from gambling by banning casinos and the like, but the move to betting online has been key to the industry’s growth in countries where it is legal. As a result, the fact that the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority takes on the responsibility for providing internet access means that it is easy enough for them to stop access to such sites to citizens of the country.
The move of the U.A.E. to own Manchester City and attempt to sports-wash its reputation might signal a decision to slowly allow certain activities to take place without permission from the Quran, but it isn’t going to be a quick process.
Another country that owns a football club, Saudi Arabia’s links to Newcastle United courtesy of the Public Investment Fund have meant that some believe that the Muslim country is looking to reform. That is extremely unlikely, so any Geordies heading to Riyadh for a holiday should be aware that Sharia law is in place in the majority of locations.
That means that the likes of betting and gambling are not just frowned upon but strictly banned. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hoping to play roulette at a casino or place a wager on a football match, it is a no-go in Saudi.
The holy book of Islam is used to decide a lot of the laws of the country, with the overall feeling being that LGBTQ+ people are not welcome and gambling will be severely punished. The likes of public flogging and imprisonment are likely for those that move to break the law, to saw nothing of a heavy financial penalty that will be heading your way.
You might be a Magpies fan pleased with the fact that you’ve been able to buy some new players, but don’t allow that to fool you into thinking that Saudi Arabia is now a country of liberalism and freedom, because it very much isn’t.
Yet another country with ties to football, Qatar is also one where gambling is illegal. That is unlikely to change any time soon, even if the football clubs that they sponsor have gambling advertisers on the hoardings around the ground or are often included in wagers and accumulators from football fans. Indeed, many people watching the World Cup at the end of 2022 might well have placed countless bets on the games taking place, but they won’t have done so whilst in the host country without having broken the law. That is the madness of allowing sports-washing so readily, but that is an argument for another time.
Whether you are a resident in Qatar or were born there, you are expected to follow the law around gambling. If you don’t then there is a good chance that the punishment will be heavy. That is exactly what 19 people found out in May of 2023, which was when they were arrested for organising an illegal gambling operation. There were found with both cash and a stockpile of alcohol, which is also banned under the Muslim laws of the country. Even those that leave Qatar are still expected to avoid the temptation of gambling whilst out of the country, which is strictness gone too far in the eyes of many.
When the ex-wife of the Sultan of Brunei was revealed to have attended numerous casinos in the likes of Macau, London and Singapore, racking up more than £1 million in debt, the story itself might not have been all that surprising. When you consider the fact that gambling is banned in Brunei, however, and that the country’s citizens are expected to obey those rules even when they are in a different location, you can see what it might be worth a mention.
The laws of the country are rooted in the Islamic principles outlined in the Quran and followed in other Muslim countries, so it isn’t a shock that gambling is a no-go activity.
The penalties in place for citizens of Brunei who are caught violating said rules can be severe, with the likes of financial penalties put on top of imprisonment and other punishments. It is thought that they will act as a deterrent, but there will still be plenty of people engaging in illegal gambling throughout the country.
Instead, it is more likely that the cultural and societal dislike of anything that goes against the teaching of Allah are expected to be enough to stop people from doing it. Obviously there are no physical places you can gambling in the country, but online betting is also forbidden.
United States of America
Whilst gambling is completely illegal in the other countries on our list, gambling laws in the United States of America are complex and vary from state to state. In general, gambling is regulated by a combination of federal and state laws. Whilst some forms of gambling are legal and regulated, others are prohibited or heavily restricted.
At the federal level, the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 prohibits the use of wire communications for placing bets or wagers on sports events. However, the interpretation of this law has evolved over time, and it primarily targets online sports betting.
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which came into law in 1992, made it illegal for most states to authorise or licence sports betting. However, in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA, allowing individual states to legalise and regulate sports betting if they choose to do so.
Regarding online gambling, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 prohibits businesses from knowingly accepting payments related to unlawful online gambling. This law primarily targets the facilitation of online gambling rather than individual players.
When it comes to other forms of gambling such as casinos, poker and lotteries, the laws vary significantly between states. Some states have fully legalised and regulated casinos, whilst others may allow only tribal casinos or have limited forms of gambling, including the likes of lotteries or horse racing.
It is important to note that the information provided here is a general overview, and the specific details of gambling laws can be complex and subject to change. Had we written this piece before PASPA was struck down, for example, we would be talking about all forms of gambling being illegal, but that is not the case any more.