Lebanese Poker Players Provide Poor Pastry But Finger The Future

Posted: March 22, 2016

Updated: March 22, 2016

Sensible regulation of gambling, be it online or at brick-&-mortar establishments, is the manifestly obvious future of the industry. Whilst prohibition still exists in many places around the world from China to the Middle East, Lebanese poker players have always had the Casino du Liban and its continued existence signposts the rational and obvious compromise that other nations in the region will have to come to terms with in the near future.

Lebanese Gambling

  • Casino du Liban
  • Hippodrome du Parc
  • Table by the kitchen door

The protests outside the parliament had everyone a little nervous. The encampment of a few thousand was worrying the politicians, the local security services and, saliently to us, our taxi driver who flipped through red traffic lights at speed with the fatalism of a blind Lebanese poker player in the last chance saloon, the center of Beirut his own private rally special stage, his aging (but well cared for) Mercedes bouncing over the red-&-white painted curbs as he sought to retain velocity at all costs.

We rather egotistically felt that he was preventing ne’er do wells leaping into the vehicle, snatching it’s passengers and then chaining my wife and I to a radiator somewhere and making us appear in dodgy home videos that would be released gambling news of our capture would sway opinion or gain a ransom (a ridiculous vain position). I asked our driver about this. He laughed and told me he was protecting his Merc from car-jackers, not the mis-timed tourists in the back seat from terrorists.

This contradiction of expectations was a bit of a running theme of our adventurous visit during Ramadan, from the polite gun-totting Hezbollah heavy that gave us directions back to our hotel when we’d become disorientated in confusion of streets in central Beirut one night, to the horse racing being attended by a 1,000 strong, screaming, excited (and wholly male crowd save for the lady at my side), Lebanon surprised us constantly. It shouldn’t have. Lebanon is a nation of contradictions as any Lebanese poker player will tell you.

Islands Of Gambling Sanity In The Middle East

The Casino Du Liban is famous across the region, a small oasis like the race course which stand out as tiny islands of common sense in the otherwise bleak sea of denial comprised of regimes in the region which still believe they can prevent the onrushing tide that the internet age has wrought upon us all. Information and opinion now flow more freely than ever before and whilst some ideologies, states and governments bury their heads in the sand, Lebanese gambling laws are at least a compromise of sorts with a nod towards the power and reach of Bet365 Sportsbook and its online chums.

Having a small number of legal gambling outlets is, naturally enough, the concept behind most people’s attitude toward sensible inclusion of gambling into societies that have hitherto not been granted the opportunity. Licensing and regulation provides revenue and strips illegal gambling of its stranglehold on the industry, and also prevents a complete free-for-all that even Russia deemed unacceptable, which is why Lebanese poker players are limited to that one place to play. At least officially. 

Car worth more than our writer

The car worth more than my wife and me in 2007 (Photo: Nich Moore)

We only braved breakfast in the hotel once during our stay. A nice place in the busy commercial Hamra district (which rather unexpectedly sported a Starbucks and Body Shop amongst its juice bars and pizza places) the food was ghastly, and the waiters seemed more intent on their game of cards on the table near the kitchen door around which those on duty hovered in clean white coats like over-excited asylum warders whilst others actually gambled. Lebanese poker players, it appeared could be found elsewhere. We didn’t mind. Them not playing poker wouldn’t have made the croissant any less stale.

Lebanese Poker Players Are Just Ahead Of The Curve

Of course those that like to bet on sports in Lebanon are allowed to do so at the races of the Hippodrome du Parc, albeit only from the municipally owned betting offices and even then only with very limited stakes. Our own choices amongst the runners and riders lost on the day, some of them by enough of a margin to warrant a quick counting of their legs at the winning post to check they actually had all four, and a cursory glance to make sure the jockey wasn’t a carefully disguised post box. No wonder the Lebanese poker players of the hotel weren’t at the racetrack.

Unarguably the most liberal country in the Middle East carefully balanced between factions, neighbors and the unenviable history of being invaded by everyone from the Romans to Napoleon, the British to Israel, the nation’s provision of these two opportunities for Lebanese poker players and their horse racing counterparts to legally wager, are a sanctuary that like Las Vegas and Atlantic City may soon be joined by others as the technological march of progress leaves states with no rational alternative.

Lebanese poker players might have a while to wait before they can gamble elsewhere in their country, but it will not be long before states with bills to pay look around for a revenue generating industry that they can regulate, and gambling will pop up in isolated ‘special cases’ like the Casino du Liban of Beirut across the region as the internet makes all sensible resistance futile and flexibility on minor issues of this nature distract from inflexibility upon others. Lebanon’s future is never certain, but you can bet they’re just ahead of the curve allowing people to gamble.

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