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Saudi Government Endorses Card Game with “Cash Prizes” at National Level. Is it Gambling by Any Chance?

By Maryam Iraj

Like every other Pakistani, I was taught both at home and at school that “gambling” is haram in Islam, and I always considered it so. But how we would justify this step of House of Saud officiating “Baloot”, a card game, for a huge amount of money.

The official Twitter feed of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority (GSA) announced last Thursday, “the country would hold its first card-playing national competition for cash prizes from April 4-8 at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in the nation’s capital Riyadh”.

So, right now, a card game for a cash prize is on in KSA, endorsed by the former Imam-e-Kaba, Sheikh Adil al Kabani. Since card game for a cash prize is legalized and has been patronized by House of Saud, it is halal now and, at the moment, gambling celebrations  are making waves across KSA from April 4-8, with 12, 288 seasoned card players participating to make it a huge hit.

Adil al-Kalbani, former Imam of the Mecca Great Mosque and the first black person to be one.

I won’t address the religious ramification of gambling as I am no authority on religious affairs. But I am posing few open questions to those who blindly follow House of Saud. Should we follow this act of Saudi government in the name of generating revenues and in the name of entertainment? How many of us could imagine that the former Imam-e-Kaba is an expert card player and the one who does not mind playing for cash? Should we also have casinos in the footsteps of House of Saud in Pakistan?

A country where 100s of people are beheaded for “sorcery and witchcraft” in this century and for other minor offences to Islam or to House of Saud, gambling is being celebrated at national level with a posthumous cash-prize. It might be another step towards modernization. Female presence is inevitable in casinos, I am waiting for the day when gender-segregation will be over and females would grace the baloot games at Riyadh casinos.

According to Baleegh Abdullah, a veteran Baloot player from Jeddah, “women will also take part in the championships, and Baloot will definitely evolve through the championship. It’s a very competitive, clever game that relies on synchronicity between team members,”

He further added,“Such prize money for a first-time championship is unprecedented. It was larger than expected, and I’m certain it will encourage people to develop an interest in the game.”

The championship is on at this moment, in the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, with the top four players receiving prize money totaling more than SR.1 million ($270,000), including SR.500,000 for the winner.

Baloot gamblers showing-off their skills in the national baloot gambling competition.
Needless to say, that with such legal gambling opportunities in Saudi Arabia, country’s two horse tracks, the King Aziz Race Track in Riyadh and the King Khaled Race Track in Taif, would benefit immensely.

Almost 15 million tourists visit Saudi Arabia each year and out of those 15 million only 5 million are religious tourists for the pilgrimage to Mecca throughout the month of Dhu al-Hijjah in Hajj and across the month of Ramadan in Umrah . With the legalized gambling opportunity, Saudi Arabia would be able to generate revenue from an estimated 10 million non-religious tourists.

Earlier, following types of gambling has been on undercover in KSA:

  1. Casino gambling
  2. Bingo
  3. Poker
  4. Sports betting
  5. Lottery
  6. Bitcoin gambling
  7. Online gambling websites accepting players from Saudi Arabia

Worth remembering here that Saudi Arabia is the only country where they have official “ethical hackers”  to detect gamblers and those people who promote adult content online. It has one of the most sophisticated online filtration system in place to arrest those who are in violation of state rules. But, I guess, state must have softened the gambling laws now.

There are, however, illegal gambling dens and illegal bookmakers operating in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, although they are often subject to police raids. During such a raid in 2011, seven people, all members of an illegal gambling circle were arrested and taken to court. But, we hope, there won’t be anymore illegal gambling dens in KSA.

Winners would go away with the millions. But there is a famous saying,, in gambling, only “house” is the winner.

According to the Saudi Gazzette , over 85,000 people have registered their names but out of them only 12,288 were selected to play in championship over 384 tables with 414 trained referees.

This all looks like the part of a bigger plan, according to the vision 2030 of the Saudi government, a huge entertainment complex is to be opened in Riyadh. It is designed on the American entertainment hub,  Las Vegas, and first stage of complex would be completed by 2022. The complex shall also include a range of attractions like entertainment, sporting amenities, a Six Flags Park and a safari park.

It was commissioned by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in 2016 with a motivation to help Saudi Arabia’s economy from becoming less reliant on the fossil fuel of oil.

Riyadh, after Las Vegas, would be another desert city to be converted into the entertainment hub of the world.