Located in the northeast part of the Arabian Peninsula, the State of Qatar boasts a well-developed economy largely driven by the export of oil and natural gas. As of 2020, the country was home to 2.8 million people and generated a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$ 146.4 billion. Qatar is also one of the places with the highest GDP per capita, ranking eleventh in the world according to data compiled by Statista.
Qatar would undoubtedly make for a very lucrative gambling market, considering how developed its economy is. However, Islam is the official religion of Qataris, prohibiting them from gambling participation. Most forms of gambling are illegal in the country and this is unlikely to change soon. Raffles are the closest thing to legal gambling locals can enjoy.
If you expect to find casinos, card rooms, bookmaking shops, or bingo venues here, you will be bitterly disappointed. The general prohibition on betting extends to online casinos and sportsbooks as well. The country does not offer legal options for those interested in wagering over the web.
Many offshore gambling operators comply with the ban and decline registrations from Qatar. Few are willing to accept betting action from the country, which renders Qataris’ choice a bit limited. Skim through this article for more information on the laws that pertain to gambling in Qatar.
The Penal Code of Qatar
Qatar has no specific law that regulates gambling as all forms of betting are illegal in the country. The only legislation that applies to gambling is the Penal Code of Qatar, and more specifically its third chapter. According to Article I, activities like alcohol consumption and gambling participation contravene the Islamic Sharia law, which applies to all Muslims.
Legal Status of Online Gambling in Qatar
Qatar outlaws gambling in both landbased and online form. There are no locally authorized online casinos and betting sites. The country has no licensing regime in place due to the illegal status of gambling. Locals keen on placing an occasional bet can do so at foreign online sites willing to accept action from Qatar.
2Offshore Operators Generally Respect Qatari Laws
Such websites carry licenses issued in other jurisdictions where gambling is legal and regulated. That said, locals face a slightly limited choice since many foreign operators have opted to respect the country’s religious and civil laws, refusing to take bets from within Qatar.
Citizens can theoretically suffer pecuniary penalties for online gambling. However, the Qatari government considers individual bettors of low priority and rarely presses charges against them for playing with offshore operators. The risk for such players is typically low provided they wager discreetly from the comfort of their homes.
3Internet Censorship System
Another thing worth mentioning is that the Qatari government has a censorship system in place for internet usage. It implements it to filter out inappropriate content like political criticism, pornography, and religious criticism. The system is fairly transparent – users simply see a message stating the page they want to visit has been blocked.
The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology licenses and regulates the providers of telecommunication services in the country. The Qatari government has attempted to implement the widespread practice of blocking offshore betting sites but with little effectiveness. Local players try to bypass the restrictions by using virtual private networks (VPNs), which also allows them to place online wagers in a discreet manner.
4No Gambling Advertisements in Any Shape or Form
Since the 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar, state authorities might resort to more thorough blocking of betting sites operated by foreign companies. Logically, the marketing of gambling businesses and products is also illegal in the country. All advertisers in Qatar must adhere to the provisions of Law № 1 of 2012 on the Regulation and Control of the Placement of Advertising.
5Ban on Cryptocurrencies
Some gambling sites that accept registrations from Qatar support fully anonymous deposits and withdrawals via decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. However, the Qatar Financial Center Regulatory Authority (QFCRA) declared a ban on cryptocurrency services in mid-2021.
The country’s Central Bank embraced a set of new regulations that aim to prevent financial crimes like terrorist financing and money laundering. The QFCRA is an independent regulatory body launched after the passage of Law № 7 of 2005 (aka Qatar Financial Center Law). It has the mandate to oversee the conduct of all companies that carry out financial services from and within the Qatar Central Bank.
Illegal Gambling in Qatar
One would think the Penal Code sanctions for gambling would have completely uprooted these activities in Qatar but this is hardly the case. Since individual casual gamblers are of low priority to the authorities, some Qataris do place an occasional bet illegally. Qatar’s Penal Code makes no distinction between games of pure chance and those that involve elements of skill. Respectively, poker also falls under the general prohibition.
The illegal status does not prevent crime syndicates from running illicit card rooms in the country. News pieces have emerged over the years reporting on groups operating underground gambling dens from private homes. Most seem to prefer running poker games and one example comes from 2006.
News outlets reported at the time two criminal groups hosted illegal games in private properties without the knowledge of their owners. After bribing the empty houses’ caretakers, the organizers would contact their potential customers by text messages shortly before the illegal poker sessions started. Regularly changing the properties enabled the groups to avoid detection for around eight years until they were eventually brought to justice.
Legal Forms of Gambling in Qatar
There are hardly any legal types of gambling in Qatar as even lotteries are against the law here. The only legal game that comes close to gambling is a raffle organized by the Qatar Duty Free division of Qatar Airways. The raffle originally came to be in 2006 but continues to enjoy great popularity among customers of the airways.
The maximum number of tickets sold per draw stands at 5,000, with passengers having the option to purchase them online at the official website of Qatar Duty Free. Three types of raffles are available – luxury car draws, motorbike draws, and millionaire draws. The latter award monetary prizes of US$1 million and have so far turned 38 people into instant millionaires.
The winners are of different nationalities, including Indian, Filipino, Lebanese, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Pakistani, Syrian, and American. Ticket prices vary based on raffle type. At the moment of writing, tickets for the millionaire draw cost QR950 (US$263), while those for the car and motorcycle draws come with prices of QR650 (US$178) and QR100 (US$27), respectively.
The tickets are available for sale to all airways passengers who depart, arrive, and transit through the Hamad International Airport. Each passenger can purchase no more than ten tickets per draw. Participants in the raffles must provide their passport numbers, contact information, and nationality so that airport authorities can get in touch with the winners. The Duty Free raffle may not sound as exciting as playing blackjack or roulette, but at least participants can feel safe knowing they are not violating Qatari law.
As you can see, Qatar is rather tough on gambling, banning all forms of betting one can think of. The country uses a dual legal system where civil and religious laws combine to prohibit both online and landbased gambling. Only raffles conducted by Qatar Duty Free are permitted here. While still based on chance, these are far from the traditional forms of gambling allowed in other jurisdictions.
The only recourse for locals who seek to gamble online is registering with offshore sites that accept players from the country despite the prohibition. However, it is best to play discreetly and exercise due diligence if you go for this option. The opposition to such activities is deeply embedded in Qatar’s culture and official religion, similarly to other Islamic nations like Kuwait, Oman, and UAE. The country shows no signs of relaxing its restrictions on gambling anytime soon.