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Poker and Other Games Popular in China

Last Updated on 2024/02/08

With over 1.4 billion people in China, gambling companies and casinos have long tried to make the country one of their key markets. Yet, with stern legislation set by the government, poker has often suffered to enter the mainstream. So, how do Chinese gamblers and gamers spend their disposable income?

Poker is Outlawed in China

The official ruling by Chinese law is that gambling of all forms is entirely illegal in the country. This project was spearheaded by President Xi Jinping, who has tightened laws surrounding the pastime since 2014. This means no regulated casino or poker room (online or offline) can occur in mainland China.

Those wanting to skirt the law can find underground games, but usually far away from the major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, where the authorities have a more significant presence. It has been reported that the city of Changsha, in the middle of the country, has a big poker community. Those who do not want to break the law or move to Changsa have used VPNs to access foreign poker sites listed on this article however it may not be the wisest decision.

Another way players and businesses circumvent the laws is to offer poker games without a cash prize. The prizes are non-monetary tokens, meaning the legislation allows them. Another discussion is whether or not the government knows or appreciates that these tokens are exchanged for money at a different venue. Anyone found to be illegally gambling in China can face a fine (equivalent to $70,000) and potentially a three-year prison sentence.

Chinese Card Games Remain Popular

Chinese card games originating in the country remain rather popular with the locals than foreign games like poker. Guandan and Da Lao Er are among the most played and even have national competitions. These games are based more on the player’s reactions to the cards they are playing (skill rather than luck), so they are not considered gambling. Mahjong is probably the most famous traditional Chinese game, but it is played with tiles instead of cards.

Chinese Poker Players Forced Overseas

Given the limited opportunities to play poker legally in China and make money from the game, budding poker players are forced to leave their country if they genuinely want to succeed. This means either fully emigrating from the government or spending much time away from their home country.

Aaron Zang ranks as the 37th most successful poker player of all time. Did he earn riches by playing in worn, dimly lit underground games? No, he didn’t. He traveled the world and played the very best poker players.

Another top Chinese poker player right now is Celina Lina, who ranks within the top five Chinese players irrespective of gender. She is one of the people trying to make poker more popular with Chinese audiences by making Mandarin-language content about poker events. However, as she plays and visits multiple poker events, she is seldom in China now – usually seen in Canada, Australia, and Monaco. She often creates content with fellow Chinese-born poker player Xuan Liu, who also makes a lot of social media content regarding poker. Liu is now a naturalized Canadian and lives there full-time in order to further her poker career, as it would be forbidden in China.

What about Macau?

Along with mainland China are a few other regional places with semi-autonomous powers. Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and the curiously gambling-friendly Macau. Unlike all the rules that make it difficult for gamblers in China, Macau has multiple casinos where bettors can rejoice. At present, Macau is the only place within the Chinese administration where it is legal to gamble.

Macau is a gambling hotspot often called the Las Vegas of Asia. This has attracted multiple poker tours, like the Asia Pacific Poker Tour, to hold events in the area. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international poker events have skirted Macau in order to abide by the local laws and limit virus transmission. After a five-year hiatus, the World Poker Tour is finally ready to return to Macau. WPT media announced that it is planning more events in the area, with details set to be announced later in 2024.

What about Hong Kong?

As previously mentioned, China has authority in multiple places outside its primary borders. Hong Kong is one such area. The former British-governed area also has some pretty strict rules on gambling, but unlike China, it does have some approved horse racing outlets, yet it is nowhere as lenient as Macau.

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