The recent surge in street protests against perceived corruption within the Gambling Commission has once again highlighted the futility of elected leaders and their inability to be representative of the people. In the past, the Gambling Commission was formed as an independent administrative entity to oversee the industry of sports in Jordan. Its mission was to protect the interests of gamblers as well as to encourage the growth of Jordanian casinos. However, in recent times it has become an instrument of political control used to further marginalize and control the population.
More than 2,100 people demonstrated against corruption in a case that involved an extremely wealthy Amman casino. More than a thousand people participated in a second protest organized by the Muslim opposition in Amman, who also demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister Ali Makhsoos and the removal of the current government. The Al Qaeda-linked Islamic Action Center in Amman hosted the largest number of protesters. They carried banners that read, “The people want to stop 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 saying that he had no plans to retire and would continue to be the head of the Gambling Commission until his term expires at the end this year. He justified his decision by saying that he was the one who decided to stay in the position despite the public’s calls for him to resign. Naturally, there are many who believe that the allegations that are made against him are political motivated and are a sign of a desire to weaken Jordan’s fragile democratic system. Many of those who believe that the charges are motivated by politics are based on the fact that Makhsoos is a member of the minority National Guard that is protecting the regime. In addition to this accusation many view the Gambling Commission as a big business lobby group, trying to increase the number of casinos in Jordan and to expand its own sector of the economy.
Many of the locals I spoke to did not care about politics, but instead focused on their dislike for Makhsoos, and the way the Gaming Commission was run. One person told me how much she disliked Makhsoos, claiming that he used to come into her hotel room while she was playing in the casino and take money from her. Another claimed that even before he stole 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 they are hesitant to speak up because they fear for what they might be. In the same way, they’ll remain silent and let the Gaming Commission to do whatever it wishes.
The current situation in Jordan is making life difficult for the people who run the casinos in the country. They face serious threats from members of the Al Qaeda linked Islamic Party and other groups that are believed to be backed by Osama Bin Laden. Anyone involved in the Jordanian gambling industry is also at risk. The tourism industry is going to suffer and along with it, the livelihoods and jobs of the people in Jordan.
There is also a concern about the future of slot machines that are currently operating in Jordan. Most of these casinos are operated by foreign companies, including those from India and Ireland. They are operated from gambling casinos or hotels. A majority of these casinos aren’t associated with the Al-Qaeda-linked groups or the Jordan Lottery Commission.
These illegal casinos and their affiliates have taken over the gambling areas and slot machines of many of the country’s hotels and motels. They are demanding huge amounts of money from their patrons and have little or no regulation of their operations. This is allowing an already illegal industry to gain control of one of the most important industries in the nation. This is causing millions of dollars in tax revenue to be lost each year to the government, the private sector and the native American gaming communities.
The native American casinos make money from processing passports and traveler’s visas prior to the player making their way back home. These companies also handle tourist visas and passports. Gambling through video poker is a major source of income for these companies. Native American casinos are particularly rich in video poker and slots gambling. This kind of business is the lifeblood of many of these companies.
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