The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an elective monarchy in Western Asia perched at the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, and Qatar. The Emirates are a federation that consists of seven independent city-states, the most famed of which is Dubai. The others include Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al-Khaimah, Ajman, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Fujairah.
Collectively, the seven emirates have a total population of around 10 million inhabitants, most of whom are orthodox Muslims, while the rest adhere to the Shia branch of Islam. The federation has the 35th-largest economy in the world and the fifth-biggest in the Middle East region, with a nominal gross domestic product of US$421 million for 2020, according to the World Bank. Petroleum export is the biggest contributor to the local economy, which is unsurprising considering the Abu Dhabi region is home to one of the largest oil-reserve concentrations on the planet.
This country of opulence evokes many associations but gambling is not one of them. Islam is the official religion under Article 7 of the UAE Constitution and the religious Sharia laws serve as the foundation of the country’s secular and federal legislation. The Islamic religion strictly prohibits gambling, denouncing it as a grave sin. The Emirates have some of the strictest gambling laws in the world, prohibiting all such activities in both landbased and online format.
Laws That Govern Gambling in the UAE
Several local laws outline the general prohibition on gambling. Some expressly refer to it, while others tackle it in an indirect manner. The ban extends to online gambling as well and the UAE is among the very few jurisdictions to actively prosecute people for betting over the internet. Those who engage in such activities risk being arrested no matter whether they have UAE citizenship or are non-Emiratis (like tourists or persons with temporary work visas).
Online Gambling Prohibition in the UAE
As we already told you, the blanket prohibition in the UAE also covers gambling activities that take place over the internet. Back in 2012, the UAE President Sheikh Khalifa released a new decree known as Federal Law № 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrime. In Article 17, the legislation states that a person who launches, operates, or manages a website for gambling activities is liable for a fine ranging from AED250,000 (approx. $68,000) to AED500,000 (approx. $136,000). The same penalty applies to individuals who produce, display, or send gambling-associated materials to other people via a computer network.
Enforcement of the Prohibition of Gambling
1The UAE Authorities
The UAE authorities are extremely strict when it comes to enforcing the prohibition on gambling activities. The Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) is responsible for the implementation of the so-called Internet Access Management Regulatory Policy.
2ISPs Must Block Online Gambling Content
It applies to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the federation and requires them to restrict the access to prohibited content that is unacceptable and harmful to the population’s morality. Of course, this also includes content associated with the promotion of gambling and related activities like sports betting and lotteries available in electronic form. The regulations aim to safeguard internet users from online content that is contrary to their religious beliefs or ethical values. The ISPs must block the access to gambling sites known to target players from the federation.
3No VPNs for Illegal Purposes
Some emiratis are bold enough to access remote betting sites by using VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), which mask their location and IP address. This is not a smart move, however. Using VPN services also violates the policies of the TDRA, more specifically, if one does it to gain access to content that is prohibited in the country. The local police authorities have repeatedly cautioned against the use of VPN for illicit activities. The transgressors can face legal consequences.
4Arrests of Illicit Online Gambling Operators
Apart from blocking gambling sites, the federation’s authorities resort to direct arrests. One example comes from 2013 when sixteen people suffered prison sentences for running illegal online poker games and offering gambling in a brick-and-mortar den in Dubai. Some of them were emiratis. Those who were foreign nationals faced deportation from the UAE.
Police authorities uncovered the illegal operations by pretending to be gamblers. The transgressors used software that enabled the access to online gambling platforms like PartyCasino and PartyPoker. One officer paid AED500 and managed to increase the amount to AED1,800 before the members of the police team eventually revealed their identities, raided the den, and confiscated the illegal gaming equipment. It turned out the illegal business deducted a 5% commission from the winnings of the gamblers.
Raffles in the UAE
The closest thing to gambling people can enjoy in the UAE is the Dubai Duty-Free Millennium Millionaire raffle. Participants can purchase their raffle tickets in the duty-free shops at the Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports without the fear of legal prosecution. It launched in the summer of 1999 and 5,000 tickets are available for sale per draw. Both locals and international visitors can participate by buying tickets.
The Millennium Millionaire draws are held roughly once every two or three weeks. The raffle has turned many people into millionaires since it launched more than twenty years ago. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that seven raffle participants managed to win the $1 million prize not once but twice. Two other raffles are also available but the prizes are non-monetary.
Participants in the Finest Surprise raffles get the opportunity to win motorbikes or luxury cars. People also have the option to purchase their tickets online at the official Dubai Duty-Free website. Tickets for the Millennium Millionaire draw cost roughly $270, while those for the car and bike raffles have price tags of $139 and $28, respectively.
The UAE lacks any form of legal gambling if you ignore the airport raffles we mentioned earlier. A similar raffle is in place in Qatar where it is also organized by the duty-free division of the Hamad International Airport. UAE authorities do not take illegal gambling participation or organization lightly, enforcing various penalties that come in the form of heavy fines and imprisonment. In April 2021, Dubai denied a rumored gambling legalization and it looks like the federation has no plans of changing its stance any time in the future.