In most Arab countries, gambling addiction implies more than a mental health disorder. Citizens of these countries who seek gambling opportunities may face legal punishments and socio-religious stigmatisation. Gambling is forbidden under the precepts of Islam; however, casinos for ‘foreign visitors’ operate in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon, where the wealthy class may access if they have dual citizenship.
Western gambling industries have also invested significant amounts of money in attracting Arabic travellers to their gambling venues. Moreover, the Internet and new technologies have opened the door to online gambling, where gamblers remain anonymous. These conditions have allowed members of the Arab world to find alternatives to engage in gambling, despite the legal, religious, and mental health risks associated with this behaviour.
But why would someone risk a legal punishment or religious banning for joining an online casino? Is it worth facing such risks? Gambling addiction is a complex psychological phenomenon that profoundly affects the brain and decision-making processes.
Gambling in the Middle East and North Africa: Between Religion and Businesses
In January 2022, Las Vegas Wynn Resort made a multibillion-dollar deal with the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah to develop entertainment venues in the area. The type of business transactions that will be allowed remains unknown. Still, the fact that a casino company is investing in an Islamic-ruled country is not new.
As touched on above, existing literature shows that countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia are well-known for allowing casinos to operate as part of their plan to attract foreign visitors. But these casinos attract more than foreign tourists; they also represent an excellent bet for wealthy locals and people from other Muslim countries who can access these venues with dual citizenship. A similar and more flexible situation occurs in Malaysia, where local Muslims cannot access casinos, but restrictions do not exist for foreign Muslims.
Gambling Addiction Is a Complex Mental Health Disorder
A few years ago, BBC News broadcasted a short report surrounding what happens inside the brain of someone with a gambling addiction.In the report, Professor David Null, an expert on gambling studies, explains that gambling can alter the brain in profound ways. For example, certain brain areas become overactivated when people engage in sports betting, play roulette, card games, the lottery, or other gambling activities. These areas are the ones that control pleasure, reward, and decision-making processes.
Indeed, many people gamble sporadically without experiencing significant consequences. Perhaps they have a fantastic night of wins or a terrible night of losses, but they manage to move on with their lives despite the outcome. In those cases, the brain has not yet experienced enough gambling opportunities to turn it into a pleasurable habit. In many instances, the person will not even consider gambling again for weeks, months, or years.
On the contrary, significant differences arise when gambling becomes more repetitive, pleasurable, and consuming.
The use of brain imaging has revealed that gambling can overstimulate the reward system, similar to drug use. Research suggests that the simple expectation of winning can become so pleasurable that it may overpower the consequences of losing. In other words, the more the brain experiences this pleasurable overstimulation, the more it will pursue further gambling activities.
As Professor Null suggests, the pleasure does not come only from winning but from anticipating the positive outcome. The excitement arises in the process of betting, playing, and hoping.
As the brain re-experiences this rewarding process, the neurological networks associated with gambling become stronger. The stronger a neurological network becomes, the harder it is for a person to refrain from a particular habit. Findings showed that what may begin as a simple game may quickly turn into gambling addiction.
The Multi-Consequences of Pathological Gambling
In many parts of the Arabic world, when a person suffers from gambling problems, they risk experiencing not only mental health issues like any other person around the world, but they also risk socio-political and religious stigmatisation.
Below, we review some of the most common harmful effects Muslim people with disordered gambling may experience.
Mental Health Symptoms
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) suggests that a person suffering from gambling addiction may experience the following symptoms:
- Recurring thoughts of gambling
- Lying to family, friends, or the community about engaging in any gambling activity
- Denying having a gambling problem
- Trying to make up losses by betting more
- Experiencing mood swings or irritability when access to gambling is not possible
- Trying to stop gambling without success
- Risking large amounts of money or financial stability due to gambling
This list applies to any person regardless of their culture or faith-belief system. Gambling issues also increase the risk factors for engaging in substance use, drugs, and other types of addictive behaviours.
As many people use gambling as a coping mechanism to manage mental health disorders, symptoms of addiction may also include stress, anxiety, and depression.
[Note: If you suspect that you may be experiencing gambling problems, you may wish to use the South Oaks Gambling Screen. This is one of the screening tests used by therapists worldwide to evaluate whether a person is suffering from pathological gambling. Of course, more evaluations will be needed].
Socio-Political and Religious Stigmatisation
Gambling is considered sinful in most Middle East and North African regions where Islam is predominant. Gambling is prohibited in the Quran because it tempts believers to stray from worship, sound morality, and home stability. In Islamic teaching, betting is banned in all forms and contexts. This means that a person should not engage in any betting (i.e., sports betting, online gambling) to earn money or for leisure purposes.
Depending on the country a person lives in, the enforcement of Sharia law can be more strict than in others. For example, gambling in Iran is strictly forbidden in all forms. Even playing in online casinos is not an option as the government has enforced regulations and restrictions imposed on the Internet.
Iranians who engage in public or online gambling may face various punishments, such as heavy fines, prison time, and even family dishonour. The Iranian case presents significant differences compared to other countries like Jordan or Algeria, in which there are not strong regulations for online gambling, and even the lottery is allowed.
The enforcement of Sharia law surrounding gambling is a sensitive matter in each Arab country. However, even in the more lenient countries, Muslim people may be at risk of experiencing family dishonour or social stigmatisation if they engage in activities forbidden by the Quran. More importantly, a person may risk straying from their spiritual path for problem gambling.
On a final note, it is important to mention that Middle Easterners and citizens of other Arab countries experiencing gambling issues may have difficulty accessing appropriate treatment. As gambling is forbidden, therapists may not provide addiction and related mental disorders services.
Finding Help Abroad
Due to the rules imposed in Arab countries, many people who live with a gambling addiction are unable to seek the help and support they need. Unfortunately, this prevents them from overcoming their addiction.
If you are ready to seek support or treatment for gambling addiction, we can assist you. At Addcounsel, we are proud to be the only facility in London that offers private and world-class service to the elite Arabic-speaking population.
In our luxurious, exclusive, and private centre, each client benefits from receiving an individualised treatment to help them overcome gambling addiction and any concurrent mental health issues.
Our professional team treats all of our clients with the utmost respect. In addition, they maintain confidentiality at all times.
As we offer our services to British residents and citizens of other countries, our 24/7 services are available in English and Arabic. We welcome those in need of gambling addiction treatment to unwind, relax, and invest in themselves and their well-being during their time with us.
Whenever you are ready, do not hesitate to contact us and let us know how we may better serve you in this stage of your life.