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China has a rapidly growing economy. Despite knowing the huge contribution of casino tax revenues to economic growth, gambling remains illegal in the country. There are exceptions, though. People can gamble in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
Article 303 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China states that:
“Whoever, for the purpose of reaping profits, assembles a crowd to engage in gambling or makes an occupation of gambling will be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention or public surveillance, in addition to a fine.
Whoever runs a gambling house will be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention or public surveillance, in addition to a fine; and in severe circumstances, fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than ten years, in addition to a fine.”
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Gambling is almost like a virtue for the Chinese. It has been inculcated into their lives since ancient times. It is actually believed that the Ancient Chinese were the ones who started gambling and spread it across the world. The popular Keno was first played by Chinese people about 4,100 years ago. Card games such as blackjack and poker were also believed to be first played in China.
Betting was first introduced during the reign of Xia and Shang, where wagering was a favourite pastime of high-class individuals of the Shang society. However, many of the activities related to gambling were often done in secret since Chinese rulers do not really approve of this activity. Since it was conceptualized, gambling has been prohibited. Since 2016, the Chinese officials permit its citizens to play lottery games, as these are not considered a form of gambling.
Macau used to be under the Portuguese government, which legalized gambling since 1850. To regulate the spread of Chinese gambling houses, a licensing system was adopted in the late 19th century. This caused more than 200 gambling houses to pay rent to the government. For several years, the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM) was given the sole right to operate all forms of gambling in Macau. The group changed the landscape of gambling in the region when they brought in western-style games. This has brought more and more gamblers to Macau. When Macau was turned over to China and became a special administrative region of China, no changes were introduced into the gambling policy.
The license given to STDM expired in 200. By 2002, the Macau government decided to end the monopoly and granted licenses to more casino operators. The existence of these casinos has made Macau the “Gambling Capital of the World.”
There are only two legal forms of gambling in Mainland China: the Welfare Lottery and the Sports Lottery, which are administered by the China Welfare Lottery Issuance Centre and the China Sports Lottery Administration Centre, respectively. The State Council does not allow issuance or selling of any foreign lotteries within the People’s Republic of China.
Sales agencies of both the Sports and Welfare lotteries must have the approval of the General Administration of Sport and Administration of Civil Affairs.
In Macau, gambling is divided into four different categories: lotteries, sports betting, greyhound racing, and casino games. Hong Kong also has a regulated gambling industry. Locals are allowed to gamble for entertainment and leisure. Gambling is allowed provided they are done through a gambling establishment. Legal forms of gambling include horse race betting, sports betting, and lotteries.
Mainland China does not have any legal casinos. Those who want to play in land-based casinos can head to Macau, home to 50 casinos. Macau Peninsula and Cotai Island have 30 and 14 casinos, respectively whilst Taipa Island has 6.
Macau has set some guidelines for gamblers to follow. To be able to gamble in China or in Macau, foreigners must be of the legal gambling age of 18 years old. For Macau residents, they can only enter the casino and gamble if they reach the age of 21 years old. Foreigners and expats are highly advised to bring their passport as these are the only forms of identification accepted by the casino security.
Mainland China is allergic to gambling. Except for lotteries, online gambling is illegal and is punishable by imprisonment or fine. The law applies to both operators and gamblers. Despite the ban on online casinos, the Chinese online gambling market is still lucrative, which causes foreign gambling websites to welcome Chinese players. The government works to block access to these websites but many still apply creative ways to move past the firewall and enjoy a game or two.
The ban on gambling in Mainland China has forced its citizens to look for other avenues where they can satisfy their gambling needs. A study has revealed that the number of Chinese locals who gamble annually equates the whole gross domestic product of Beijing. Majority of these individuals resort to online casinos because of the better odds and heightened excitement compared with the government-sanctioned lotteries.
Last April 2016, the government issued a circular regarding the online lottery sales and is seeking to issue new online operator licenses tor lottery tickets.
In both Hong Kong and Macau, no known systems are in place to regulate, monitor and allow online casino sites. While the law does not stipulate whether it is illegal or legal, many do not need to find any online casinos because all forms of gambling are legal in these regions. Those who would want to secure a license will have no government agency to turn to for help and guidance.
Online casinos offering sports betting are probably the ones who will have more visitors from Hong Kong and Macau. Other than that, not many gamblers from this region fancy online casinos.
Since gambling is illegal in Mainland China, the special administrative region of Macau takes the trophy as the gambling city of China. It is, in fact, considered worldwide as the “Gambling Capital of the World.” Compared with the rest of China, Macau is the most gambling-friendly city. It has surpassed Las Vegas in gaming revenues, making it the biggest gambling destination in the world. In August 2018, the total gaming revenue of Macau totaled US$25 billion, about 17% higher than its performance last 2017, surpassing expectations of analysts.
Macau casinos offer a wide variety of games including traditional casino games, horse race betting, and poker. A few internet betting options are available but, as said, these are mostly online bookies.
In addition to casinos, Macau also has the Macau Jockey Club and Canidrome. The Macau Jockey Club, formerly Macau Trotting Club is located in Taipa Island. Races are held every Tuesday and Saturday or Sunday. The race track covers an area of 450,000 square metres and can seat up to 18,000 spectators.
Gambling activities in Macau are under the jurisdiction of the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ), responsible for passing legislation, enforcing laws and overseeing the whole operations of casinos.
Hong Kong allows social gambling. For as long as betting is made for pleasure and entertainment, players do not have to worry about prosecution. The largest legal gambling activity in Hong Kong is sports betting. Punters are highly recommended to wager only within an approved gambling facility. Betting through a bookmaker is considered illegal.
Founded in 1884, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is the only legal establishment to accept bets on horse racing, football matches, and lotteries. Due to the huge number of punters, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is the highest taxpayer in Hong Kong.
Locals are allowed to gamble in casinos. The biggest gambling city in Hong Kong is Kai Tak City, which has two casinos. The region has a total of four table games, 20 gaming, video poker, and slot machines.
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