The Casino Du Liban, Lebanon’s only casino, has downplayed a terrorism alert issued by the US Embassy in Beirut and moved to reassure its visitors of their safety. The casino, built in 1959 when Lebanon was far more Westernized, is just under 14 miles north of Beirut.
In a message sent out to its employees this week, and later posted on its official website, the embassy said US government officials were barred from frequenting the casino due to “ongoing threats.”
“As always, the US Embassy will continue to evaluate the movements of its personnel, and encourages all US citizens to be aware of their immediate surroundings at all times and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety and security,” it added.
“Terrorist incidents may occur with little or no warning. In the event of a security incident, avoid the area and monitor the media for the latest developments,” the warning added.
In an official statement, the casino’s management countered that the safety of its visitors was “guaranteed,” and that the property would “continue its activities as usual and its doors and halls will remain open, with security measures in place to protect all visitors.”
Casino Du Liban Chairman Roland Khoury dismissed the embassy’s statement as a “routine measure that is not exclusively related to Casino Du Liban.” He said the casino was guarded by “an army intelligence post, an Internal Security Forces post, an army checkpoint at its entrance, in addition to private security guards.”
Casinos are rare in the Middle East, as gambling is explicitly forbidden in the Koran, the sacred book of Islam. And while Lebanon has largely escaped the worst excesses of the atrocities perpetuated by terrorists across the region, the Casino Du Liban is a potential target of Salafist jihadist organizations, which have outlawed gambling entirely.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, Lebanese authorities foiled an attempted suicide bombing of the casino by a Christian convert to extremist Islam who planned to drive a truck loaded with explosives into the building. The casino now prohibits the entry of cars onto its premises.
Casino Du Libon has an interesting history. It was built in 1959, when Lebanon was a glamorous destination for mostly European and Arab wealthy vacationers. The burgeoning tourism industry there was ushering in a period of post-colonial prosperity (France had once held the Middle Eastern country as a colony) and religious extremism was rare.
Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean, it was a favorite haunt of film stars like Elizabeth Taylor, David Niven, and the shipping magnate (and eventual Jacqueline Kennedy second husband) Aristotle Onassis.
The casino is now operated by London Clubs International, a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment.
When Did Lebanon Change?
A civil war that raged in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990 was responsible for a major shift in the demographics and zeitgeist of the country. Prior to that war, Maronite Christians had been the major influencers, a holdover from the days when the country was under the colonial power of France. Much of Lebanon’s existing Muslim population, and many left-wing groups, opposed the Westernized government, however.
With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and the subsequent exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to Lebanon, demographics further shifted towards a growing Muslim population in the country, laying the groundwork for the civil war that ultimately killed an estimated 120,000.