The recent surge in protests in the streets against perceived corruption within the Gambling Commission has once again revealed the futility of elected leaders and their inability to represent the people. In the past, the Gambling Commission was formed as an independent administrative entity to regulate the sport industry in Jordan. Its mandate was to protect the interests of punters and encourage the growth of casinos in Jordan. However, in recent years, it has become a political instrument used to further marginalize and control the population.
A little over a week ago, more than 2100 residents demonstrated against a purported corruption case regarding a high-rolling casino, in central Amman. Many more took part in a second protest organized by the Muslim opposition in the capital city, demanding the demise of the current government as well as the resignation of the Prime Minister Ali Makhsoos. The largest gathering of protesters was from the Al Qaeda linked Islamic Action Center in Amman. They wore banners that said “the people want to end the cycle of corruption in Gambling”. Some of them carried placards featuring pictures of Ali Baba (the former king of Jordan and currently the Gambling Commission Chairman).
Recently Ali Makhsoos was quoted as declaring that he had no plans to quit and would continue to be the head of the Gambling Commission until his term expires at the end of this year. He claimed that he made the decision to remain in the job despite numerous requests to resign. Many people believe that the accusations against him are politically motivated. They are designed to undermine Jordan’s fragile democratic system. Many believe the charges are politically motivated since Makhsoos is part of the minority National Guard protecting the regime. Many view the Gambling Commission, in addition to this charge, as a large business lobby group trying to promote Jordanian casinos and develop its own sector.
A lot of locals I spoke to were not concerned about politics, and instead focused on their dislike for Makhsoos, and the way that the Gaming Commission was run. One resident shared how much she disliked Makhsoos, claiming that he would come into her hotel room when she was in the casino and take money from her. Another person said that, even before he stole her money, the Gaming Commission was letting her 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 could be. In other words, they will remain silent and allow the Gaming Commission to do whatever it likes.
The current situation in Jordan is making it difficult for those who run the country’s casinos. They face serious threats from Al Qaeda-linked Islamic Party members and other groups believed to be backed Osama bin Laden. Anyone associated with the Jordanian gambling industry is also at risk. The tourism industry is going to suffer and with it the livelihoods and jobs of the residents of Jordan.
There are also worries about the future of the current Jordanian slot machines. The majority of these casinos are operated by foreign companies, including those from India and Ireland. They operate from hotels or gambling casinos. Many of these casinos do not have direct connection to the Jordan Lottery Commission or the Al Qaeda linked groups.
These illegal casinos and their associates have taken over the gambling areas and slot machines of many of the nation’s hotels and motels. They are imposing huge fees from their patrons and have very little or no regulation of their operation. This allows an illegal industry to take control of one of the biggest industries in the nation. This is causing millions of dollars in tax revenue to be lost each year to the government and private sector as well as the native American gaming communities.
The native American casinos make money from processing traveler’s visas and passports prior to the player making their way back home. They also process tourist visas as well as passports. They also have a substantial source of income from video poker and other gambling. The gambling on video poker is particularly lucrative for the native American casinos in this tense economy. This type of business is the lifeblood of many of these companies.
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