In the city of Lattakia—specifically in the al-Zara’a district, where there is an absence of state authority and it is inhabited by major militia commanders and figures close to the regime—the Ammar cafe openly receives its customers who offer sports bets. The cafe has seen an increase in demand, especially among young men and adolescents, who want to make quick money.
Even though Syrian law bans these types of activities and prosecutes them, the regime is turning a blind eye, allowing them to spread widely, especially in Lattakia and Tartous provinces, where agents (“dealers”) are in most popular cafes that carry international matches and leagues.
The betting mechanism
Activists in Lattakia told Alsouria Net that the betting isn’t covered by any regulations, protecting those who engage in it from theft or fraud, because the offices that run the betting aren’t licensed. A person close to the Assad family called Ali Ammar, from Qardaha, is responsible for these offices.
The betting mechanism that has spread on the Syrian coast, as explained by Mustafa S., a university student in Lattakia, is based on interacting with one of the agents, who call themselves dealers. A person using the website of the international bookmakers William Hill, and selects the matches they want to bet on, and then photographs the screen and sends it via WhatsApp to a mediator working in the Ammar office staff or by going directly to the cafe in the al-Zara’a district. The amount that the bettor wants is specified, with the odds, or what is locally called the “hit.” The share of the mediator office is 10 percent of the value of the bet, whether it’s successful or not.
According to Mustafa, the betting operations, “are all subject to luck and could cause people to go broke, especially if they play with large amounts.” The young man adds that, “some of my friends in university have started doing this, and haven’t been able to stop. In the beginning they were betting with small amounts, and when they won they started betting with larger amounts. Then suddenly they lost everything they had, and started going into debt.”
Open betting offices
Despite the regime’s attempts to appear opposed to these activities through campaigns and arrests against those responsible for it from time to time—as happened recently in Lattakia—on the ground it is clear that these offices are working openly and in complete comfort, and are even advertising on social media.
On Facebook, a number of pages encourage betting. These pages connect brokers and bettors in Lattakia, offering services and betting options to customers. They also explain how to bet, list odds and name the winners of sporting fixtures.
According to these pages, the bettor’s options are not limited to the famous European football leagues such as the Spanish, English and Italian, but also include other lower-level leagues and sports such as volleyball and tennis.
A member of the local coordination councils in the city of Jableh, Abou Mulham Jablawi, told Alsouria Net that all the betting activities were done openly and without fear. He added that, “this phenomenon has been spreading for more than three years, and the influence that those in charge have with the regime, has reassured bettors.”
According to Jablawi, “three offices are operating openly in Lattakia, and one in Jableh and two in Tartous, all of them affiliated with Ali Ammar, who is close to the Assad family in Qardaha.”
He also said that the main reason that the people operating these offices were not prosecuted was because of their proximity to the regime, “and they are the same mafias that are making large amounts of money from smuggling, drug dealing, tobacco, and other activities.”
The activist concluded by warning against the continuation of this phenomenon, at the same time calling for awareness among bettors, especially given that these activities are sometimes manipulated and are not subject to legal, licensed regulations as in some countries, and that these offices and brokers get huge amounts without any real effort.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.