Dubai government shuts down ‘betting’ kiosks after workers lose wages in scam

Inspectors acted after probe by The National found ‘Lucky Draw’ games seemingly operated against the law

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The Dubai government has shut down ‘gambling’ kiosks targeting low-income workers.

Inspectors from the Department of Economic Development acted after probe by The National found the kiosks seemingly operated against laws banning betting.

Each week, hundreds of workers risked their hard-earned savings on the chance to win prizes at a series of four gaming kiosks by the Shindagha ferry terminal.

Players of ‘Lucky Game’ paid between Dh20 and Dh100 to have six envelopes drawn from a box.

The activity has been stopped. We urge consumers and businesses to report any commercial activity that may require further investigation to us

Inside each envelope was a number and, if lucky, each number corresponded to a prize.

“That’s Dh50 gone,” said a bewildered-looking Deepak Rabari, 25, who earns Dh1,400 a month.

He carried away a prize of a pen and a small can of deodorant but looked visibly shaken by the ordeal.

“I got confused – it’s fake,” he said. “Everybody comes in and confuses people. I will not play again. I am poor.”

Gambling in the UAE is illegal but because Lucky Game offers the chance of winning goods rather than cash, its managers said no laws were understood to be broken.

Players can sometimes walk away with a big prizes such as a second-hand iPhone, but more often than not they win items with little value, such as a small bottle of perfume or a toy.

Yet despite the seemingly obvious risks, many men – anxious to boost their monthly salary – seemed happy to play.

Dozens thronged around the kiosks near the Shindagha ferry terminal when The National visited the area to observe how they operated.

Dev Kumar lost a third of his monthly salary in only a matter of minutes.

Looking lost and dejected, the Nepali waiter sank back into the crowds along Dubai Creek knowing he was now in serious financial difficulty.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Anna Zacharias: Lucky Game booths near the ferry terminal that now appear to be shut down. Thursday, February 13th, 2020. Bur Dubai, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Mr Kumar told how he had dressed up in his best clothes to enjoy a day off by the creek away from his restaurant.

But after wandering alone for some time, he was drawn in by the crowds surrounding the kiosks, and soon fell victim to what he now says is a scam.

Initially, he described watching several rounds of the game without taking part. He said two men had appeared to win expensive-looking phones, a ploy he now believes is used to draw in more players.

When he tried his own luck, he too was successful at first. He won two Nokia phones with a retail value of roughly Dh55.

But he was then asked if he wanted to gamble them both on the chance of winning an even bigger prize. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he lost everything.

“I think I got it very wrong,” said Mr Kumar, 33, who said he spent Dh1,200 of his Dh3,500 monthly salary on the envelope game.

When questioned by The National, players around the kiosks revealed a little of the tactics deployed by the owners to encourage more people to take part.

Low-income workers appeared to be their preferred target, with men alleged to work for the kiosk owners deliberately faking big-prize wins to help draw in the crowds.

Haitham Mohammed, the man who identified himself as the director of the games, was sitting nearby.

He claimed his business had been officially approved by “so many departments” including the Department of Economic Department in Dubai.

“Let them come and see and check,” he said, when questioned over the game’s legality.

“It’s different because gambling is money for money. But we do not [give] cash.

“I cannot stop a man from reaching into his pocket. If he wants to play, he can play. This is normal.”

The Department of Economic Development in Dubai ordered an inspection when The National informed it of the scam. It shut the kiosks and has urged the public to come forward if they see exploitative practices.

“The said activity has been stopped,” said Abdulaziz Al Tannak, the DED’s director of commercial compliance.

"All raffles in Dubai are monitored by Dubai Economy and we urge consumers and businesses to report any commercial activity that may require further investigation to Dubai Economy via or the Dubai Consumer app."