Understanding Where Gambling Faces Prohibition

Gambling often serves as a thrilling pastime, offering a chance to socialize with family and friends or a temporary escape from the stresses of everyday life. In some cultures, it’s even woven into the fabric of tradition. Yet, the potential for gambling to evolve from a harmless activity into a problematic addiction is a concern that cannot be overlooked. The transition from casual betting to compulsive gambling introduces detrimental behaviors and consequences.

Recognizing the risks associated with unchecked gambling, several countries around the globe have taken a firm stance against it by implementing bans on such activities. This decision stems from a desire to protect citizens from the adverse effects of gambling addiction, including financial ruin, mental health issues, and the breakdown of social and family bonds.

This guide delves into the nations where gambling is strictly prohibited, exploring the reasons behind these legal restrictions. By understanding the motivations for such bans, we can gain insight into the broader implications of gambling and the measures different societies take to safeguard the well-being of their people.

Exploring the Global Stance on Gambling: Countries Where It’s Prohibited

Different countries take varied approaches to gambling, ranging from strict regulation to outright bans. While some governments control the gambling scene within their borders, others prohibit all forms of gambling, leaving no legal avenue for residents to engage in such activities.

The reasons for banning gambling differ from one country to another, often revolving around:

Social Concerns: Gambling can spiral out of control, leading to addiction. This addiction can have severe consequences, such as:

– Accumulating debts.

– Cutting back on essentials like food.

– Diminished work or academic productivity.

– Selling personal items to fund gambling habits.

Moreover, gambling addiction can pave the way for alcohol and substance abuse, increasing the risk of criminal behavior and endangering public safety. Authorities in some countries choose to outlaw gambling to shield their citizens from these negative impacts.

Cultural and Religious Beliefs: In many regions, the opposition to gambling is rooted in moral and religious convictions. Sacred texts, including the Bible and the Quran, denounce gambling for its societal harm. Gambling is criticized for fostering a culture of easy money over hard work, promoting greed, and undermining community values. In highly religious and conservative countries, activities that conflict with prevailing beliefs are often viewed with disdain, leading to prohibitions on gambling to prevent moral decay.

Economic and Political Considerations: Expanding gambling operations can initially boost a country’s revenue, but this increase might not be sustainable in the long term. The anticipated economic benefits can diminish, stagnate, or even decline, posing risks to countries that have heavily invested in the gambling industry. Additionally, managing a larger gambling sector requires more oversight. In countries where gambling is legal, monitoring all financial transactions can be challenging, potentially leading to revenue losses despite regulatory efforts.

Below, you’ll find a list of countries where gambling is illegal, along with the reasons for these bans and the potential penalties for violations. This overview sheds light on the complex web of social, cultural, religious, and economic factors influencing national policies on gambling.

Exploring Gambling Laws in Oceania and Europe

Oceania, a vast region spanning the South Pacific Ocean, encompasses a wide array of countries and territories, including prominent nations like Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. Within this region, the approach to gambling laws varies significantly. Recent reports highlight that there are over 7 million gamblers across Oceania. However, not all territories contribute to this number due to strict gambling prohibitions in certain areas.

Marshall Islands: The Stand Against Gambling

The Marshall Islands, comprising over 1,200 islands, enforce the Gaming and Recreation Prohibition Act of 1998. This law outlaws gambling and gaming activities across the islands, with specific exemptions for non-profit organizations. These groups may organize bingo, raffles, and cakewalks exclusively for fundraising purposes. Violations of this act can result in a $1,000 fine or up to one year in prison for individuals or corporations engaged in unauthorized gambling activities.

Tokelau: A Historical Ban on Gambling

Tokelau, Oceania’s smallest territory and the fourth smallest globally adheres to the Native Ordinance of 1917. This early legislation establishes a fundamental legal framework, including a prohibition on all forms of gambling. Those found participating in gambling activities face penalties, including fines or imprisonment with hard labor.

Europe’s Flourishing Gambling Scene

Europe stands as the leading continent in terms of gambling revenue. In 2020, the European gambling market was valued at €81.1 billion, with projections suggesting a surge to at least €122 billion by 2025. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of this booming industry, generating the highest gambling revenue among European countries. Yet, despite this overall growth, some European territories maintain strict regulations or outright bans on gambling.

Kosovo: A Decade Without Gambling

Between 2009 and 2019, Kosovo experienced a rapid expansion in its gambling industry, generating approximately €20 million annually in gambling taxes and employing around 4,000 individuals. However, the industry faced a drastic halt in 2019 when Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj declared a ten-year ban on all forms of gambling. This decision came in the wake of tragic incidents, including the deaths of two casino employees. Haradinaj expressed his determination to prevent gambling establishments from becoming hotspots for crime and endangering lives. Following this ban, only the state-operated lottery is permitted to function in Kosovo.

Gambling Traditions and Restrictions Across Asia

Gambling has deep roots in Asian cultures, with many in the region introduced to it as a family activity from a young age. Despite its cultural integration, the Asian gambling market, valued at $19.5 billion in 2022, faces a complex landscape of legal restrictions. Expected to grow significantly by 2028, this market will see variances in contribution due to strict gambling bans in certain countries. 

Jordan: A Complete Ban Under Islamic Law

Jordan, adhering to its Muslim values, outlaws all forms of gambling. The country has never issued gambling licenses nor allowed operators within its borders. Unlike some nations that permit national lotteries, Jordan maintains a comprehensive ban, extending to online gambling. Despite this, Jordanians have been known to access offshore casino sites, with the online gaming market revenue per user reaching $5.76 in 2023. Yet, authorities have so far not taken action against individuals participating in online gambling.

Afghanistan: Prohibited by Sharia Law

In Afghanistan, the absence of official gambling legislation is overshadowed by the country’s adherence to Islamic law, which condemns gambling as a sin. Consequently, there are no legal gambling operations within the country, though some citizens engage in online betting clandestinely. With only 18% internet penetration, the online gambling scene struggles to flourish.

Bahrain: Strict Penalties under the Penal Code

Islam’s influence in Bahrain has led to the enactment of the Bahrain Penal Code, prohibiting gambling activities. Offenders face significant fines and imprisonment, with penalties escalating for repeat offenses. While the law does not explicitly address online betting, telecommunications regulators actively block gambling websites.

Brunei Darussalam: Zero Tolerance Policy

Brunei’s Islamic doctrine strongly discourages gambling, leading to the implementation of the Common Gaming Houses Acts. This law leaves no room for exemptions, applying to residents and tourists alike, with strict penalties for violations.

China: A Cultural Phenomenon Meets Legal Prohibition

Gambling is an integral part of Chinese culture, often associated with luck and prosperity, especially during the Chinese New Year. However, since 1949, all forms of gambling have been illegal, with only state-approved lotteries permitted. Despite this, underground gambling persists, and offshore gaming organizations find loopholes to operate. Interestingly, China’s stringent gambling laws have benefited neighboring Southeast Asian countries, attracting Chinese gamblers to their casinos and online platforms. In the Philippines, for example, Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) have become a significant source of tax revenue.

This overview of gambling in Asia highlights the intricate balance between cultural traditions and legal restrictions, showcasing the diverse approaches to gambling regulation across the continent.

Gambling Laws in Predominantly Islamic Countries

Iran: Strict Prohibitions Under Sharia Law

Iran, governed by Islamic theocracy, adheres to the principles of Shia Islam, which profoundly influences its legal system. Gambling is considered a significant sin within Shia Islam, leading to its outright ban in the country. The Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly in Section 12 Article 654, explicitly declares gambling activities as illegal and void. The absence of specific references to online gambling does not exempt it from these prohibitions, with penalties for gambling including flogging or up to six months of imprisonment. Public gambling offenses result in both punishments.

Indonesia: Gambling Contrary to Islamic Principles

Despite Indonesia’s constitution not declaring it a Muslim nation, it houses the world’s largest Islamic population, where gambling is viewed as sinful based on Quranic teachings. A notable instance reflecting the country’s stance on gambling was in 1993 when a legalized lottery faced immediate backlash from Muslim-led protests, leading to its swift cancellation. Today, Indonesia lacks any form of legal gambling establishments, be it physical or online.

Malaysia: Distinctions Based on Religious Lines

In Malaysia, gambling regulations differ for Malay (Muslim) and non-Malay (non-Muslim) populations. The Betting Act of 1953, with revisions in 1992, allows certain forms of gambling like lotteries and horse racing, but exclusively for Non-Malays. Muslim residents, however, are subject to Islamic law which forbids all gambling activities.

Maldives: A Unified Muslim Stance Against Gambling

With a population that is 100% Muslim, the Maldives’ laws are deeply rooted in Islamic teachings, prohibiting all forms of gambling in alignment with the Quran’s directives.

Pakistan: Comprehensive Ban on Gambling

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan strictly adheres to the Quran, leading to the enactment of the Gambling Prevention Act of 1977. This law universally bans gambling across the nation, including online betting, without the need for explicit mention.

Qatar: Severe Penalties for Gambling

Qatar’s legal system, influenced by Wahhabi Sunni Islam, enforces stringent anti-gambling laws. Law No. 11 of 2004 specifies that gambling is punishable by up to three months of imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 Qatari Riyals. Public gambling offenses incur even harsher penalties.

Saudi Arabia: A Zero-Tolerance Policy

In Saudi Arabia, gambling is synonymous with “maisir,” a term from the Quran signifying an abominable act. Consistent with its strict Islamic governance, the country offers no legal avenues for gambling. This ban extends to tourists, who are also expected to refrain from any gambling activities, including online betting.

These countries, guided by Islamic law, uphold firm stances against gambling, reflecting a commitment to preserving religious and moral values in their societies.

Syria: A Shift from Tolerance to Prohibition

In the 1960s and 1970s, gambling found legal ground in Syria, with three casinos operating across the country. However, by the 1970s, due to pushback from religious conservatives, these establishments were shut down. Decades later, in 2011, Damascus witnessed the opening of the Ocean Club casino, reigniting debates among Syrians. While some welcomed the opportunity to gamble locally rather than traveling to Lebanon, the majority of Syria’s Muslim population opposed it, citing Islamic laws that prohibit gambling. Despite the controversy, the Ocean Club continues to operate in Damascus.

Thailand: Limited Legal Gambling Options

Thailand offers only two legal gambling forms: the state-run lottery and horse race betting. The lottery, a significant revenue source for the Thai government, operates as a state enterprise. Horse racing, viewed as a sophisticated pastime, is the only other betting activity sanctioned by the government. All other forms of gambling are banned, reflecting the influence of Buddhist principles which teach that gambling does not lead to enlightenment or the noble path.

United Arab Emirates: Islamic Laws and Recent Reforms

Under the UAE’s Islamic legal framework, all gambling activities are traditionally considered sinful and are strictly prohibited. Offenders caught gambling can face up to two years in prison and hefty fines, while those operating illegal gambling activities risk up to ten years in jail and even larger fines.

However, in 2020, the UAE began to implement reforms to its Penal Code, aiming to modernize and adopt a more liberal stance on social freedoms. This shift is part of a broader strategy to generate additional revenue and attract tourism. A landmark development in this direction is the commencement of the Wynn Al Marjan Island casino project in Ras Al Khaimah in early 2023. This $3.9 billion luxury resort, set to open in four years, will feature a gaming area, a high-end shopping boardwalk, over 24 dining and lounge options, and more than 1,500 rooms, suites, and villas, marking a significant change in the UAE’s approach to gambling.

The Evolving Gambling Landscape in Africa

Gambling is becoming increasingly popular across Africa, particularly among the younger generations. In Kenya, for instance, a staggering 83.9% of young people have engaged in betting activities. This surge is largely attributed to digital advancements and greater internet access, with the continent’s online gambling market projected to reach $1.62 billion in revenue by the end of 2023.

Despite the growing popularity of gambling in some areas, there are several African countries where betting is strictly prohibited due to religious and legal reasons. Here’s a closer look at these territories:

Algeria: A Ban Rooted in Islamic Principles

Algeria, adhering to its constitution that designates Islam as the state religion, bans gambling as it’s seen as incompatible with Islamic teachings. While the nation allows the practice of other religions, all residents must abide by the laws, including the prohibition of gambling.

Eritrea: Religious Consensus Against Gambling

In Eritrea, where Christianity and Islam are the predominant religions, both faiths discourage gambling. The country follows Islamic law, thereby making all forms of gambling illegal, including online betting, though residents may still access foreign betting websites.

Ethiopia: Partial Legality with Growing Concerns

Ethiopia allows certain gambling activities regulated by the National Lottery Administration, including sports betting and casino games. Despite the legality, the popularity of sports betting among university students has raised concerns, prompting discussions about a potential ban to protect the youth.

Libya: Prohibition Under Islamic Law

As a predominantly Muslim country, Libya’s legal stance on gambling follows the Quran, which deems gambling abhorrent. The 1953 Penal Code explicitly bans all betting activities.

Mauritania: Following Islamic Teachings

Mauritania’s laws reflect the Islamic prohibition of gambling, with no casinos operating within the country. While the law does not specifically mention online gambling, it is generally prohibited.

Somalia: Strict Enforcement of Islamic Law

With over 99% of its population being Muslim, Somalia adheres to Islamic laws that ban gambling. Offenders are subject to punishments under Sharia law, including public flogging, rather than fines or imprisonment.

Sudan: Gambling Against State Religion

Islam, being the state religion, heavily influences Sudan’s laws, including the strong prohibition of gambling outlined in the 1991 Criminal Law Act. Violators face imprisonment, fines, or both.

These countries represent a spectrum of attitudes towards gambling, from partial legality to complete bans, reflecting the diverse cultural, religious, and legal landscapes across Africa.

Gambling Dynamics Across North America

North America, encompassing the USA, Canada, and Mexico, is a powerhouse in the global gambling industry. The USA, in particular, boasts iconic gambling destinations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. In 2022, Las Vegas welcomed 38.8 million visitors, marking a 20.5% increase from the previous year, with the Las Vegas Strip generating $8.2 billion in revenue, up 17.1% from 2021’s figures.

Despite the widespread acceptance of gambling, certain regions within North America maintain strict prohibitions.

British Virgin Islands: A Regulated Environment

In 2020, the British Virgin Islands embraced gambling through the Gambling (Gaming & Betting) Control Act, setting the legal gambling age at 18. The act does not specify penalties for underage gambling; instead, adults who facilitate minors’ involvement in gambling face fines up to $10,000, two years of imprisonment, or both.

Cuba: The End of a Gambling Era

Once rivaling Las Vegas, Cuba’s gambling scene was shut down following the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro’s government, established post-revolution, passed laws to permanently close casinos and outlaw gambling, eradicating the island’s once-thriving gambling industry.

USA (Utah): A State of Prohibition

Utah stands out as one of the two American states where gambling remains illegal, largely due to the influence of Mormonism, which constitutes 55% of the state’s population. In Utah, engaging in gambling activities is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in jail, while providing gambling services incurs even harsher penalties.

USA (Hawaii): The Ban and Its Implications

Despite Hawaiians’ known penchant for gambling, state law prohibits betting in public or recreational venues, limiting residents to social gambling. Annually, Hawaiians make approximately 300,000 trips to gamble legally in Las Vegas and other states. The economic impact of gambling addiction is significant in Hawaii, with an estimated 20,000 problem gamblers contributing to social costs of $26.3 million. To preserve its gambling-free status, Hawaii restricts advertisements for gambling-related services from Nevada.

These examples illustrate the diverse approaches to gambling regulation across North America, from complete legalization and regulation to strict prohibition influenced by cultural and religious beliefs.

Gambling Across South America: A Mixed Landscape

In South America, gambling regulations differ significantly across countries, leading to a vibrant yet complex gambling landscape. Despite these variances, the continent’s casino games are projected to generate substantial revenue, reaching $72.49 billion by the end of 2023. This figure, however, only represents a portion of the potential market, given the legal restrictions in some countries, most notably Brazil.

Brazil’s Stance on Gambling

Brazil, the largest and most populous nation in Latin America, stands apart in the South American gambling scene due to its stringent anti-gambling laws. These regulations have kept the country from contributing to the continent’s gambling revenue, making Brazil a “sleeping giant” within the industry.

For the past 70 years, gambling has been broadly illegal in Brazil, with the law specifically targeting “games of chance.” This categorization means that games requiring skill, such as poker, don’t fall under the ban. Despite these restrictions, Brazil allows a few gambling activities, including the state-run lottery and horse race betting, offering limited options for legal gambling within the country.