Recently, Syria’s first casino has faced the city with quite a moral dilemma. Much to the dismay and open objection of the city’s primarily Muslim population, the Ocean Casino opened its doors in January of 2011. It sat comfortably on the outskirts of Damascus for over three months before being shut down. As the only casino in Syria, this decision left the city’s many would-be gamblers with only two options: travel to Lebanon and other neighboring countries or stick to online, mobile casinos.
The Ocean Casino was just one of many attempts at boosting the Syrian economy. When the casino first opened, it was filled to capacity. In three days the Ocean Casino saw countless Syrian gamblers spending upwards of $5,000 each, a profit which would have been funneled into casinos in Cyprus and Lebanon, otherwise, not to mention microtransactions featured on mobile casino applications. In fact, most poker players, slot watchers, and roulette rollers participating in Lebanon and Cyprus casinos have commuted from Syria specifically to gamble.
Shortly after opening, Syrian gamblers were outraged when the Ocean Casino shut down. A mere three months after initially opening their doors, the casino left Syria’s wide array of paying customers standing angrily at the entrance, granted no permission to come in and play. While many receded to their homes to play on mobile casino apps and websites, instead, others remained at the inoperable Ocean Casino, in avid protest of the closure. No one knew whether the casino had permanently or temporarily closed in order to calm the plethora of Islamist extremists upset with the Ocean Casino, who had been campaigning for its closure for months. In April 2011, a day before Al-Assad’s resignation speech to parliament, the casino closed, as part of his overall resignation basket. While the casino’s closure forced Syrians to visit Lebanon’s Casino du Liban as their only option for gambling, games, betting, and fun. Although whispers of a Casino Damascus circulated throughout Syria, a business which would threaten to poach the Casino du Liban’s customers, these rumors appeared to be simply wishful thinking for Syrian gamblers.
Even though the Ocean Casino was shut down by the Syrian President, in lieu of Al-Assad’s resignation, teachers were then able to work in full-veil again, Kurds from the east would be able to apply for Syrian citizenship, and a wage increase was promised to public sector workers, so the casino’s closing wasn’t all bad. However, Syrians wishing to gamble are still holding onto hopes of a new casino opening up nearby.