The recent upsurge of street protests against perceived corruption within the Gambling Commission has once again exposed the ineffectiveness of elected leaders and their inability to represent the majority of the population. The Gambling Commission was established in the past as an independent administrative body to regulate Jordan’s sports industry. Its purpose was to protect the interests of gamblers and encourage the development of casinos in Jordan. In recent times, it has turned into an instrument used by the state to reduce or control the population.
Just over a week ago, more than 2100 residents protested against an alleged corruption case involving a posh casino, in central Amman. More than a thousand people participated in a second demonstration organized by the Muslim opposition in the capital city, also calling for the removal of the current government and the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Makhsoos. The largest crowd of protesters came from the Al Qaeda linked Islamic Action Center in Amman. They waved banners which said “the people want the end of corruption in Gambling”. Some of them were carrying placards that featured images of Ali Baba (the former king of Jordan and currently the Gambling Commission Chairman).
Ali Makhsoos, who was quoted recently as saying that he had no plans to resign and would continue as the head of the Gambling Commission until the end of his term. He justified his decision by saying that he was the person who chose to keep the post despite calls for him to quit. Naturally there are many people who believe that the charges made against him are politically motivated and represent the desire to weaken Jordan’s fragile democratic system. Many of those who believe the allegations are motivated by politics base their views on the fact that Makhsoos is an active member of the minority National Guard that is protecting the regime. Many see the Gambling Commission, in addition to this charge as a huge business lobbying group that is trying to encourage Jordanian casinos as well as create its own industry.
A lot of locals I spoke to did not care about politics, and instead focused on their displeasure with Makhsoos, and the way in which the Gaming Commission was run. One resident claimed that Makhsoos used to come into her hotel room while she was playing at the casino to take money. Another person claimed that even before he took her money the Gaming Commission was allowing her to pay him in cash. It appears that the residents believe that all of the allegations against Makhsoos are true, but are reluctant to make a statement because they fear for what they might reveal. They therefore choose to remain silent and let the Gaming Commission do what it will.
The current situation in Jordan is making life difficult for those who manage the country’s casinos. They are facing serious threats from members of the Al Qaeda linked Islamic Party as well as other groups believed to be backed by Osama Bin Laden. Anyone who is involved in the gambling industry in Jordan is also in danger. The tourism industry is going to suffer and along with it, the livelihoods and jobs of the people in Jordan.
There are also concerns over the future of the current Jordanian slot machines. The majority of these casinos are controlled by foreign companies from countries like India and Ireland and are run out of casinos and hotels. Many of these casinos are not associated with Al-Qaeda-linked groups or the Jordan Lottery Commission.
These illegal casinos and their associates have taken over the gambling areas and slot machines of many of the nation’s motels and hotels. They are imposing huge fees from patrons , and there is very little or no regulation of their operations. This allows an illegal industry to become the head of one of the largest industries in the country. This is causing millions of dollars in tax revenue to be lost each year to the government, the private sector and the indigenous American gaming communities.
Native American casinos earn profits by processing visas and passports for tourists prior to their journey back home. They also process tourist visas as well as passports. These businesses have a significant source of revenue from video poker and other forms of gambling. The gambling on video poker is particularly lucrative for the native American casinos in this tense economy. This type of business is the heartbeat of many of these companies.
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