Jordan to take another stab at legalizing tourist-only casinos

jordan-casinosJordan is considering lifting its longtime ban on casino gambling in a bid to attract more international tourism and to give the country’s flagging economy a badly needed boost.

Last week, Ammon News reported that Jordan’s vice-prime minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb had given a speech at the Amman Chamber of Industry in which he suggested the country should license casinos in popular tourist destinations, including Aqaba and Petra.

The vice-PM insisted that only foreign passport holders would be allowed to access the casinos, with Iranian tourists singled out as the prime pool from which the new casinos would draw their clientele.

Aqaba is situated on the Red Sea, just across the Gulf of Aqaba from the Israeli resort town of Eilat, which just announced that it was considering authorizing between two and four casinos of its own. Like Jordan, Israel currently doesn’t permit casinos, and Israeli religious conservatives aren’t taking the proposal well.

The last time Jordan mulled the idea of authorizing casinos was in 2007, when then prime minister Marouf al-Bakhitt inked a deal with UK-based developer Oasis Holding Investment. The contract was extremely controversial given its 50-year term and the $1.4b penalty the government would have to pay Oasis if the deal went sour.

And go sour it did. The government ‘forgot’ to publish news of the new gambling policy in its official gazette, as required by law. When news of the deal became public, religious conservatives took to the streets, mirroring the Arab Spring protests that brought down the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

Al-Bakhitt publicly claimed to have had no knowledge of the deal, although documents eventually leaked showing this claim to be untrue. The PM narrowly dodged an impeachment vote but tourism minister Osama Dabbas was deemed an acceptable fall guy and was impeached.

It’s unclear as to why Jordan’s current leaders believe the climate is any more hospitable for taking another run at listing Jordan’s casino ban. But this time they at least appear to be keeping the public abreast of their plans as they go.