Like most Muslim countries, Qatar is not friendly towards gambling by any stretch. You will find no casinos, sports betting shops, bingo halls or any other business that allows people to risk money on uncertain outcomes. Of course, human nature being what it is, gambling does still occur in Qatar.
The only gambling that exists in Qatar today is found at online casino sites and underground gambling dens in the real world. Of the two of those options, Qatar casino sites are by far the safest option. Gambling in the real world in Qatar is a dangerous proposition between the risk of getting caught and the types of people you would be dealing with in-person.
Online casinos are the best option by every measure. They offer significantly less risk of getting caught, less risk of being cheated, a greater likelihood that you will be paid, more game options and a better all-around experience. If you’re going to gamble in Qatar, online is the place to do it.
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Before you gamble online in Qatar, you should know that all gambling is illegal here. The criminal code can put you in jail for up to three months and fine you up to three thousand riyals if caught gambling in private. The fines are even higher if you’re found gambling in public or at an underground gambling den.
However, the risk of getting in trouble for visiting online casinos in Qatar is relatively low. Internet privacy and censorship are legitimate issues in Qatar, but authorities are more intent on combating pornography and political dissent than on trying to find out if anyone is placing a few bets online from the comfort of home. That being said, you should weigh the pros/cons yourself to decide if you believe the risk is acceptable.
Gambling in secret with people in the real world raises the risk quite a bit. Authorities have been known to raid gambling dens. A GulfNews.com report from way back in 2004 detailed one instance in which two criminal gangs were hosting illegal gambling games in vacant houses. The Gulf Times sent journalists undercover to visit the games and report on the goings-on in the world of illegal gambling in Qatar.
In some cases, the criminal groups would actually rent vacant houses from their owners and then host gambling games there without the owners’ knowledge. Interestingly, the report noted that the criminal gang was never caught due to them constantly changing locations and being extremely selective in choosing who to invite.
Qatari Gambling Law
Qatar’s gambling laws are straightforward and easy to understand. It is illegal to participate in any gambling or to organize gambling games as a business. The Qatari penal code (Law no. 11 of 2004) addresses gambling in three articles.
Article 274 provides the definition of gambling:
Gambling is any game in which the probability of gain and loss depends on the luck and not on controlled factors and each party agrees to give the amount of money, in case of loss, to the winning party.
Article 275 provides the penalties for participating as a player:
Anyone who gambles is convicted to no more than three months in prison and to a fine of no more than three thousand riyals, or to one of these two penalties. The penalty is no more than six months in prison in addition to a fine of no more than six thousand riyals, or one of these two penalties if gambling occurs in a public place, is performed openly or in any place or house made for this purpose.
Article 276 provides the penalties for organizing gambling:
Anyone who opens or runs a place for gambling, and anyone who organizes any gambling games in a public place, openly or in any place or house made for this purpose is convicted to no more than a year in prison and to a fine of no more than five thousand riyals, or to one of these two penalties.
Online gambling is not specifically addressed in the law, but our interpretation is that it doesn’t need to be. Qatar employs a blanket ban on all gambling, period. The risk appears to be minimal as far as the law goes, but you should proceed with caution nonetheless. If someone was to decide to go after online gamblers, the law would be on the side of the authorities.
Ex-pats on work Visas in Qatar should also make sure to avoid using any work-related devices or work-related WiFi services to participate in gambling. Your bosses probably could not care less what you do on your free time, but they would also be likely to end your contract if they notice you flouting the local laws. Alternatively, you could avoid the risk altogether and just not gamble at all while in Qatar.
The Qatari government does proactively block websites it deems harmful to morality and the political class. Reports out of Qatar are that the majority of their internet blocking efforts are focused on blocking pornographic material (in which they even include dating sites) and websites that are critical of certain regional leaders.
We do not have a presence in Qatar, but we have head from players that most casino websites in Qatar are not blocked. In that case, you will find that getting started and playing for real money is simple. Major gambling operators have no issue accepting riyal deposits. They simply convert them to USD, GBP or EUR when you deposit and then convert back to riyal when you withdraw.
VPN services can also be used to bypass any filters you encounter, but the government is aware of VPNs and does attempt to block access to websites that offer VPNs. If you’re not familiar with the term, “VPN” stands for “virtual private network.” To make a long story short, many companies offer inexpensive VPN solutions that make it possible to access restricted materials online.
There is one other potential issue to keep in mind, though. A telecommunications law passed in 2006 includes a clause (Article 66) that makes it a crime to “use any facility or telecommunications service in a manner that violates the rules of this Law or other laws.” The penalty for doing so is a prison sentence of up to 1 year and a fine of up to 50,000 riyals.
This particular clause has been criticised by human rights groups for its vague and sweeping language. Depending on how that clause is interpreted by the authorities, it is possible someone would consider accessing gambling sites a violation of that clause and subject gamblers to significant legal and financial risk. We do not know of any cases in which this law has been used to prosecuted gamblers, but we feel it is worth noting.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.