When is a bet not a bet? A day at the Iran races

Wed Nov 2, 2011 2:07pm EDT
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By Mitra Amiri

NOWRUZABAD, Iran (Reuters) - As Rio Collection galloped across the finishing line, Sardar hooted with joy and high-fived his friends.

He had just won 200,000 rials (almost $20). Not by "betting" on the horse, he insisted -- betting is illegal under Iran's Islamic law -- but by "predicting" Rio Collection would win.

"I knew he would win. I predicted correctly," said the 18-year-old.

Under Islamic sharia law, gambling is generally seen as illegal and Sardar's wager, made with a friend, was actually not permitted. But thanks to certain religious rulings, many race-goers are permitted to put money on the horses legally as long as they are "predicting" through official channels.

The Koran describes gambling as "evil, unclean and Satanic" and people found guilty of illegal gambling in the Islamic Republic can be sentenced to flogging and jail.

However, three forms of gambling are permitted under Islam, said a cleric consulted on the matter by Reuters.

"All forms of gambling are haram (forbidden by Islam) except for horse racing, camel racing and archery," said Mohsen Mahmoudi, a cleric at a north Tehran mosque, adding that those manly, warrior sports were all encouraged by the Prophet Mohammad.

But technically, he added, only the archery contestants and riders of the horses or camels in the races are permitted to bet.   Continued...

<p>EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to film or take pictures in Tehran. Jockeys whip their horses during the final stretch of the race during the summer races at the Norouzabad Equestrian center on the outskirts of Tehran September 16, 2011. REUTERS/Caren Firouz</p>