Syria makes low-key opening of casino
Wednesday 05 January 2011
A casino opened without fanfare near the Syrian capital on Christmas Eve, in a bending of the rules in a secular country seeking to lure tourists but where gambling is banned out of respect for Islam.
"The casino was packed, the money flowed," enthused Rami, a 55-year-old businessman more used to the renowned Casino du Liban but curious about the new establishment near Damascus international airport.
He said the casino could poach clients from neighbouring Lebanon, which attracts punters from Syria, Iraq, Jordan and the Arab countries of the oil-rich Gulf.
The casino was inaugurated without much publicity so as not to offend Muslim religious leaders and conservative Syrians mindful of Islam's prohibition of games of chance.
"People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Casino du Liban, and they can do the same here," said Rami.
In the first week, most of the clientele were Syrians, with only a few from Lebanon and the Gulf.
Hussam, a client in his fifties, was disappointed. "There are too many people, the gaming room was packed," he said.
Omar, a 45-year-old with a passion for gambling, said he had to enlist the help of a manager at the casino to gain entry with a group of friends.
"The casino was sold out on Saturday night," he said, adding that service "needs to improve" if it wants to compete with the established casinos around the Lebanese capital.
Many Syrians, including well-off businessmen and others with deep pockets, often make the trip to Beirut, which is only a taxi-ride away from Damascus, said Omar.
But for Syrians who prefer to play at home, the new casino offers all the standard fare, including roulette, blackjack, poker and slot machines.
Gambling was banned in Syria in the 1970s, explained analyst Sami Mubayed.
Back in the late 1950s, the clergy tried in vain to ban alcohol and gambling at the resort town of Bloudan, northwest of Damascus, which attracts tourists from the Gulf, Mubayed said.
The opening of the new casino coincides with a period of economic openness in Syria, which has been trying to attract tourists with its wealth of historical sites.
"This will give a boost to tourism," said one of the casino's managers, asking not to be named, adding the project went ahead under a special dispensation as part of economic liberalisation moves in Syria.
But not everyone agrees the casino will bring in more tourists.
"It is not an important economic activity. The facility is not large enough and it cannot compete with the Casino du Liban," said an economic analyst, on condition of anonymity.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 3 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before a character like Homer or Lisa
- 4 British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
- 5 Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >
28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...
18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...
£20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...
£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...