By Ben Garcia

Kuwait police arrested several expatriates involved in an illegal gambling scheme in Mahboula recently. The men engaged in a variety of games including running numbers, poker and other card games organized at an apartment in Mahboula. They also took bets from gamblers across the country, especially for the numbers lottery.

Gambling and playing the lottery or numbers is a popular pastime in many Asian countries but is illegal in all forms in Kuwait. At the gambling location in Mahboula, a Filipino man reportedly ran the operation, relying on several associates to bring in clientele.

“I heard about the raid. I had long stopped associating with them because I was really afraid this will happen one day. I wasn’t wrong,” a former associate of those arrested told Kuwait Times on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a small-time numbers game, but the twist is that they let people believe it is Thai lottery and the winning numbers are from Thailand. However, they were only doing the draw of the numbers in Kuwait, managed by the Filipino,” claimed the source.

The so-called Thai lottery is widely known in Kuwait and the region, despite being illegal in Kuwait, and is popular among many nationalities. Besides the lotto, there were other gambling activities at the Mahboula den, including playing cards (locally known to Filipinos as lucky 9 and tong-its), along with mahjongg (a tile-based game). These were played separately with bets ranging from KD 1, KD 5, KD 10 and KD 20.

“I heard that before the raid took place, the Filipinos there had beaten up the Egyptian haris. In retaliation, the haris, who was playing cards with them, reported their illegal activities to the authorities. That is the reason why a few hours later, police came and arrested the Filipinos,” the former associate added. At least 20 Filipinos were reportedly arrested during the raid in Mahboula. Kuwait Times could not verify the authenticity of the former associate’s narrative, but he said he used to roam around Fahaheel, Salmiya and Kuwait City in search for would-be bettors.

A female gambler from Salmiya said she was encouraged to bet for the lottery twice a month. “I used to place a bet for the Thai lottery twice a month, as they announce winners on the 15th and towards the end of every month. I won several times already in the mixed numbers,” she said. For the Thai lottery, a bettor can select three numbers randomly from zero to nine – if they get the correct three numbers (in order), they will win KD 400. In the event that all numbers are present but are not in order, they win only KD 80. Bets of KD 1 and KD 5 can be placed.

These illegal number games are popular not only among the Filipino community, but also in the Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi communities. People can be found placing bets in open parking lots in Mirqab, Jleeb, Kuwait City, Salmiya and other areas of Kuwait. “We have a similar numbers game (matka) and most of those lured to it are low-income workers,” said Madu, an Indian expat.

Gambling in Kuwait is strictly prohibited and any person caught gambling will be arrested and deported. Despite this, underground gambling activities are regularly uncovered by authorities including betting on dog fights, underground poker games, lottery or numbers betting and betting on sporting matches. “I think they are lured by the easy money. Also, in this pandemic, they need some extra cash. Perhaps that is why they are into it,” Madu added.