Gambling in China is something of a paradox.
The country manages to possess one of the world’s largest markets while at the same time making most forms of gambling illegal.
The sheer number of people that make up the Republic, coupled with a natural propensity for gambling means that the demand is huge. Fans of Keno take note, this is one of many popular games of chance that were invented in this vast and complex nation. Despite having a long and illustrious history of gambling, modern China presents challenges when it comes to gambling online.
Legal gambling in China
The government knows that its people want to gamble and provide two main legal outlets. These are two lotteries that are completely state-run. The China Welfare Lottery (CWLC) has been operating a nationwide lottery since 1987, under guidance from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The second is the China Sports Lottery (CSAS), run since 1994 by the General Administration of Sports Committee. Almost everything else gambling related is illegal and has been since it was outlawed by the Communist Party back in 1949.
Along with the legal lotteries are two exceptions to the rule. Chinese punters can take a quick trip to the Special Administration Regions (SAR) of Macau and Hong Kong to gamble. These regions come under the rule of mainland China but have some autonomy when it comes to certain domestic laws. Residents of Hong Kong are allowed to bet on particular sports events such as horse racing and football, through the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Over 700 race meets are held in Hong Kong each year which makes it one of the most profitable cities in the world for the sport of kings.
Macau is a true gamblers mecca. It is a world-famous haven for gaming and one of the most popular destinations for gambling in the world. It eclipsed Las Vegas for gaming revenues over a decade ago and its popularity knows no bounds. However, almost all gaming in the region is conducted offline. There are very few online gambling options, and nothing like what is available in Europe or North America.
Is online gambling legal in China?
The short answer is no, at the moment online gambling is not legal. Although there are plenty of online casinos accepting China players, Online casinos within the country are banned and the Chinese government makes huge efforts to block foreign providers. They are assisted by local ISPs and users can face tough terms for accessing them. Chinese financial intuitions aid this drive by blocking payments to and from online gaming sites. This has led many keen betting fans to turn to cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to sidestep traditional payment methods.
This has not been ignored by Chinese authorities. A recent case that garnered huge coverage in Western media revolved around the 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia. In the lead up to the event, the police seized over $1 million in cryptocurrencies as part of a crackdown on illegal gambling activities.
Despite the often heavy-handedness, the public receives mixed messages on the subject. Following raids and crackdowns in 2005 on unregistered backstreet casinos, the Chinese government also released a statement that they were not targeting all forms of gaming. Traditional gaming and ‘friendly’ gaming was fine to carry on as normal. So some forms appear to be are okay but organised unlicensed gaming is a serious offence.
Having said that, above board gaming has also been hit hard – whether this is for monetary reward or not. In 2018 app stores, including Google, Apple, and WeChat, were banned from offering poker apps. These poker apps used virtual chips but some players have been accused of settling loses and wins offline with real money. On top of this, social media platforms have been completely banned from promoting poker right across the board. The social media blackout has made it extremely difficult for Chinese players to know when online poker events are coming up in the region. This has sent ripples right across the Asian poker scene from South Korea to the Philippines and beyond. Because Chinese players made up over half the participants in these online events their absence is keenly felt.
Online Gambling Remains Popular
Despite all of the legal and technical hurdles, online gambling in China is booming. How can this be so? Chinese gamblers are aided by a number of offshore betting sites that cater to their business. Some online casinos allow deposits and withdrawals in renminbi, as well as provide language settings on Chinese – including customer support. There are also a number of great review sites that can recommend online casinos, which work best, which offer payments in cryptocurrencies, and so on.
China is clearly a country that wants to gamble. Its people have participated in gaming for centuries and it is seen as a socially acceptable pastime. The mixed message from the government can be confusing and has led to both regulated and unregulated providers stepping in to fill the demand.
The future of gambling online in China
This is entirely up for speculation but like many things in life the final decision may come down to one simple factor – money. Huge economic development in China over the past few decades has moved millions out of poverty and into the middle and upper classes. More money means more spending and a need for additional outlets for it to flow through.
With such a strong desire for gambling, fuelled by rising disposable incomes, will this be an opportunity too great for the authorities to pass up? Licensing and regulating home-grown operators has the potential to keep gambling profits from shifting offshore, and provide jobs. The future could be exceptionally bright for many, but for now, as they say – ‘watch this space.’
Gambling is one of mankind’s oldest pastimes and there is clearly a huge demand for it off and online in China. With its enormous population and the growth of wealth throughout all levels of society, there is huge potential for online gaming providers. Demand is clearly there, as evidenced by the success of the state lotteries, Macau’s casinos and the Hong Kong Jockey Club. It could only be a matter of time before the Chinese Government devises ways of tapping into those revenue streams and opening the internet up for online gambling.
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