The Buzz About A “New Casino” In Saudi Arabia

There has been a lot of buzz online about a “new casino” set to open in Saudi Arabia. All this started when photos and videos of people wearing traditional Qamic tunics and keffiyehs in what looks like a casino setup circulated online. The images set social media ablaze with people having different interpretations of what was happening, and it started a controversial debate.

Some people captioned the video as “The first gambling center of Saudi Arabia inaugurated at Jeddah.” Being an Ismalic state, Saudi law is very clear on its stand on gambling and that is, any form of gambling is prohibited in the country.  If you want to play any casino games, offshore casino sites are your only option. Gambling is considered haram and that’s why the images and videos sparked a lot of debate.

However, after some fact-checking, the content was confirmed as accurate, but people misinterpreted the context. There is no Jeddah Casino that is coming up in Saudi Arabia. Instead, the video was first uploaded on Life in Saudi Arabia Facebook page with the caption “Baloot Championship kicks off in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”

If you carry out a reverse search of the image, it will show you the original video, which depicts an ongoing baloot tournament that happened in a gymnasium in Riyadh. Baloot is a traditional trick-taking card game popular in Saudi Arabia and can be played with family and friends online or in cafés.

In fact, baloot is so popular in Saudi Arabia that the Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports officially recognised it as a sport. The tournament that was held in 2018 was purely for fun and gathered about 12,000 participants who didn’t have to buy in to participate—it was completely free.

In the circulated photos, you can see Adil al-Kalabani, a former imam of the Masjid al-Haram or “The Great Mosque of Mecca”, sitting at one of the tables and talking to the participants. However, his appearance in the tournament received much criticism, and Adil uploaded a Youtube video responding to the comments.

One of his key remarks in the recording was, “Whether we like it or not, baloot is a very popular game in Saudi Arabia.” As much as there’s plenty of buzz about whether there’s a new casino in the country or not, the answer remains a resounding no, and Islamic law still stands.

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