Hamas is planning to prevent the casino in Jericho from ever opening again soon after it forms the new Palestinian Authority cabinet, sources close to the Islamic movement said over the weekend.
Oasis Casino, which was opened in 1998, is the only casino in the PA areas.
Owned by Casinos Austria, the casino was shut shortly after the beginning of the intifada in September 2000. For years it was regarded as one of the prominent symbols of corruption in the PA because some of the money went into the bank accounts of senior PA leaders.
„They can only dream of reopening this damned place,“ a source close to Hamas told The Jerusalem Post. „We’ll never allow the casino to operate.“
Another source said he did not rule out the possibility that the casino would be turned into a mosque. „I’ve heard from top Hamas officials that this will be one of the first things that they will do when they take over the Palestinian Authority,“ the source said. „I don’t think many Palestinians will be unhappy to see the casino wiped off the face of the earth.“
Although it is located in Jericho, the casino never obtained a license from the Jericho Municipality. Instead, it operated under a special license from the PA Finance Ministry.
Hamas and other Islamic groups were strongly opposed to the opening of the casino in 1998. The PA leadership then justified the move by arguing that only Israelis and westerners would be permitted to enter the casino. Some PA officials even went as far as claiming that the casino was actually good for the Palestinians because of the damage it was causing to Israeli gamblers.
In Islam, gambling is strictly prohibited and the Koran associates it with alcohol, which is also forbidden. Referring to the practice, the Koran states: „O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that you may succeed (Al-Ma’edah Sura: 90).“
A number of Hamas legislators told the Post that they would do their utmost to close the casino as soon as possible. Among those who are spearheading the anti-gambling campaign is Nayef Rajoub, a Hamas legislator from Hebron, who is also the brother of former security chief Jibril Rajoub.
The casino was built on land belonging to the Wakf (Islamic trust) – a move that further enraged Hamas and many Islamic groups.
„The Palestinian leadership could have built schools, hospitals and factories instead of a casino,“ said Nayef Rajoub. „This is a big disgrace and we will put an end to it.“
Rajoub and other Hamas legislators said they had received requests from many Palestinians in recent weeks urging them to work toward closing the casino.
Last week, hundreds of Hamas supporters in the northern West Bank signed a petition calling on Hamas to shut the casino at once.
In an unrelated development, the PA said it was seeking the extradition of several former officials suspected of financial corruption.
„The Palestinian Authority has asked a number of countries to extradite Palestinians who were involved in financial corruption,“ said Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, commander of the PA‘s General Intelligence Force. „We have extradition treaties with these countries and we believe they will hand over all the suspects.“
He did not name the countries, but many former PA officials are believed to have fled to Jordan, Egypt, Syria and some Gulf states following the death of Yasser Arafat. One of them is Sami Ramlawi, former director-general of the PA Finance Ministry, who is accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars.
PA Attorney-General Ahmed Mughni revealed last week that an investigation was under way to determine the fate of USD 700 million that went missing from the PA budget. He said at least 25 top officials had been named as chief suspects.