Jordan mulls building casinos that would be off limits to citizens

Jordan is considering building casinos in the Red Sea port of Aqaba (pictured) and other "special development" areas such as the tourist attraction of Petra, even though gambling in the country is illegal.

The plan being considered by deputy prime minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb would locate the casinos in areas off-limits to Jordanians.

The announcement came during a speech by al-Ragheb at an investment seminar on 13 February at the Amman Chamber of Commerce, reports World Casino News.

Jordan has long considered opening a casino in a region where they are few and far between. According to the World Casino Directory, the United Arab Emirates is the main centre for gaming, with four establishments, while Iraq and Bahrain have one each.

But the idea is controversial.

In 2011, the Guardian newspaper revealed that Ma’arouf al-Bakhit, Jordan’s prime minister, in 2007, authorised the signing of a secret contract with UK-based developer Oasis Holding Investment to build an "extra-legal supercasino complex", although he claimed later that he knew little about it.

An investigation by the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera uncovered a cache of documents that showed that many significant figures in the government knew of the plans.

The "Dead Sea Casino" was abandoned after parliamentary crises and street protests at the time of the Arab Spring in 2011. The scheme was particularly controversial because the government faced a $1.4bn penalty for cancelling the deal.

Four years before "Casinogate", licenses were issued to the Ayla Corporation for two other casino developments by a previous government. One was to be built near the Sheikh Hussein bridge over the Jordan river to northern Israel, and the other in Aqaba. Ayla Corporation is run by Palestinian businessman Khaled al-Masri.

The return of the casino idea may have been prompted by neighbour rivalry. Israel’s tourism minister Yariv Levin said recently that he wants to see four casinos in the Red Sea resort of Eliat.

Photograph: The Jordanian port of Aqaba (Wikimedia Commons)

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