Many Westerners will be shocked – shocked! – to find gambling going on in Syria. Conditioned by 24-hour news channels to think of the non-Israel portion of the Middle East as one giant hotbed of Sharia law, it’s hard to conceive that Damascus has a new casino offering slots, table games and alcoholic drinks being served by mini-skirted waitresses.
As detailed in The Guardian, Damascus’ Ocean Club celebrated its one week anniversary on New Year’s Eve. The club is run by Khaled Houboubati, owner of the al-Wahda Sport Club football team and son of Tawfig Houboubati, the last person to run a gambling joint in the city. The elder Houboubati’s three casinos were shut down in the 1970’s by the prime minister of the day, following pressure from outraged Muslim clerics. Until the Ocean Club opened on the same site of one of these former gaming establishments, the city had been bereft of any above-board gambling facilities.
The current government appears — in private, at least — to be on board with Houboubati Jr.’s venture, although what happens when word of the casino spreads amongst the city’s population will likely have more bearing on the operation’s future. Though the Ocean Club is located out by the airport, and thus ostensibly aimed at a tourist clientele, staff report that the patrons have so far primarily consisted of wealthy Syrians. This will no doubt provide some fundamentalist cleric with a tall enough soapbox from which to whip his less literate followers into a suitably self-righteous frenzy.
We sincerely hope it never comes to pass, but we have a sneaking suspicion that the biggest bet currently on offer at the Ocean Club is how long it will be before some fundamentalist nutter plants a car bomb outside its front door.