Maameltein, Jounieh, Lebanon - Lebanon’s only casino, the Casino du Liban, is looking to launch online gambling with the casino’s CEO, Roland Khoury, declaring that the online platform would offer sports betting along with casino games.
Khoury said: “We are making all the preparations to set up the online gambling site in six months.”
However, whether this will actually push through remains to be seen. The Casino du Liban first publicized a proposal for online gambling way back in 2017, opening attender process to look for a partner that could deliver the needed technology and more importantly, an investment worth $15m.
However, a bill to legalize online gaming has failed to pass despite already being in Congress since 2012. Politicians could not settle on how to regulate Lebanon’s bingo halls, amusement arcades or a possible online gambling site. The finance ministry, which wrote the original legislation and then kept it updated while Congress hesitated, has expressed irritation over the long wait for a decision.
An official from the ministry relayed in July 2018: “We amended a draft in 2012 to include all gaming outside Casino du Liban, including the bingo centers, under the jurisdiction of the finance ministry. It hasn’t been approved or discussed by anyone since then because of the political nonsense you know about.”
The government is said to remain sympathetic to Casino du Liban’s plan. The casino has a state monopoly, with the government possessing a majority stake in the shape of state-owned Intra Investment Company. The private operator London Clubs International, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment, runs it. Some of its employees are reportedly paid by the state. Khoury gave no information on who would facilitate the casino’s online gambling site.
Official online gambling at the casino would make a huge adverse impact on illegal gambling schemes operated by offshore platforms that have targeted the country for the past decade. These include William Hill, Bet 365, Bwin, PokerStars, and Betfair.
The government mandated Internet service providers in 2013 to close off these offshore platforms. If the online gambling bill ever gets passage, Khoury said that blocking would be greatly extended to safeguard Casino du Liban’s monopoly.
Illegal gambling rakes in millions of dollars of revenue that would wholly aid the country’s finances. The casino pays a 50% tax rate, worth some $45m, on revenues from its 600 slot machine. By contrast, the amusement arcades, which also have slots, hand over only around $5m taxes each year.
Khouri also mentioned that the casino had been asking the government to cut its tax rate to 40%, so as to compete on a level playing field with the arcades. Otherwise, it is asking the authorities to shut down the arcades, which number at least 200 and are unregulated. Such a development would increase the government's revenue cut, as slots players would have no choice but to go to Casino du Liban.