Given the country’s indelible association with gambling, it may come as a surprise to learn that the pursuit is in fact illegal in China. That’s not the full story of course, and rest assured that the gambling industry throughout China is booming.
Macau is the centre for gambling in China, but the reality is that you can gamble throughout the country, playing games such as roulette online and offline. That being said, there are rules to familiarise yourself if you intend to do so, as ignorance is never an excuse should you fall foul of the law.
While not all Chinese gamble, a significant number do, both at home and overseas. Whether you’re merely visiting China or are a permanent resident, your options for gambling are extensive. The Chinese love virtually all forms of gambling: horse racing, sports betting, roulette, baccarat, poker, pai gow and many more. If it involves placing a wager of any kind, the Chinese will take it and readily bet on it.
China’s Stance on Gambling
Officially, gambling is illegal in China. Unlike the many Muslim countries where gambling is outlawed, China’s reason owes nothing to religion and everything to the possibilities for becoming addicted. Some of China’s states and provinces offer lotteries, which are extremely popular; due to the nature of lottery participation, these aren’t generally seen as contributing to problem gambling.
The two prime lotteries available in China are the Welfare Lottery and the Sports Lottery and as an indication of their might, China’s lottery market was worth US $40 billion in 2012. While China’s stance on gambling is to classify it as illegal, this law does not apply in Macau. Macau is a different beast altogether.
Macau was once a Portuguese colony until 1999 when it was returned to the Chinese. Today, Macau is classified as a Special Administrative Region of China. In layman’s terms, this means that Macau can do whatever it likes, save for the realms of foreign policy and defence. Gambling in Macau has been legal since the 1850s, and remains so to this day. As a consequence, the former Portuguese colony attracts vast swathes of gamblers from China, Hong Kong and other Southeast Asian nations.
Gambling in Macau
Macau is a mecca where all forms of gambling are indulged. Whatever you’re into – roulette; poker; sports betting; greyhound racing – you can scratch that itch in Macau.
The number of casinos to be found in Macau has proliferated in the past ten years, and today visitors can enjoy unrivalled choice. Back in the day, the gambling that was permitted in the region came courtesy of fantan houses, which supplied a specific form of Chinese gambling. Nowadays, however, the casinos hold sway, lending Macau the nickname of the Monte Carlo of the Orient.
Such is the extent of the gambling trade in Macau that it’s responsible for over 40% of its GDP and gambling taxes account for 70% of the government’s revenue. Today, visitors alighting in Macau can choose from 33 casinos, the largest being The Venetian Macao.
Here, and at the other 23 casinos located on the Macau Peninsula (there’s another 10 to be found on Taipa Island), visitors can enjoy roulette, sic bo, fan tan, keno, slots and much more. While poker took a while to gain a foothold in Macau, it’s now become every bit as popular as the traditional Chinese casino games that are available here. Many of Macau’s casinos are open 24 hours, enabling ardent gamblers to indulge their passion around the clock.
The Realities of Gambling in China
Gambling has been illegal in China since 1949. Back then, of course, there was no online gambling, but the rise of the internet hasn’t done anything to change China’s stance on gambling: for almost 70 years, the practice has been outlawed, and operators and players alike who are found to be breaking the law could face a fine or imprisonment.
Despite the ban on gambling in China, it unofficially proliferates throughout the country, especially horse racing. Moves have been made to try and legalise horse racing betting, but nothing concrete has come of this so far. Chinese citizens who wish to legally bet on horse races can do so from Hong Kong; the semi-autonomous province is to horse racing what Macau is to casinos.
Online Gambling in China
Online gambling, just like gambling IRL, is illegal in China. As a consequence, you won’t find any licensed Chinese casinos on the web. The Chinese government’s propensity for restricting the internet access of its citizens is well documented.
The Great Firewall of China, as it’s known, has been used to block everything from social media sites to news sites that are critical of the government. Naturally, it comes in equally handy when restricting the gambling websites that Chinese residents can access.
If the Chinese are famous for their love of gambling, they’re almost as well-known for their technical prowess. The skills of the Chinese – not just the highly competent hackers it produces but also of its regular citizens – are more than enough to circumvent the web filtering that’s in place. Due to the size of the Chinese market and the enthusiasm with which Chinese gamblers approach casino play, overseas casinos readily cater to the needs of Chinese players. It’s no coincidence that the majority of casinos you visit on the web will have a Chinese language option.
Chinese-Friendly Online Casinos
For players who are keen to play roulette and other table games from mainland China, the process is pretty straightforward. If there are web filtering restrictions preventing you from accessing your preferred casino, you’ll need to find a way around this – try experimenting with a VPN or web proxy – but thereafter, signing up should be a doddle.
Some online casinos even offer different language options, with both traditional and modern Chinese supported.
In terms of payment, some casinos will take Chinese-registered credit and debit cards, but generally speaking you’ll need to use an alternative payment option that doesn’t betray your country of origin.
Bitcoin is extremely popular in China, and is used as a method of sending funds to friends, family and – yes – online casinos discreetly. With many online casinos now offering Bitcoin as a deposit method, it’s an ideal means of funding your account without drawing attention to yourself.
The Future of Online Gambling in China
With talk of regulating horse racing betting, there are certainly plans for China to relax its stance on gambling. Whether these plans ever come to fruition remains to be seen. In the meantime, it makes little difference; if you want to gamble while in China, you can, provided your conscience permits you to technically flout the law.
That said, if you catch a flight to Macau, you won’t be breaking the law – you’ll be embracing it, and using its statutes to facilitate your love of roulette, slots and all the other casino games that put a smile on your face.
Is gambling legal in China?
No. The only exception is Macau, which has its own laws and permits gambling. Within mainland China, the state lottery is the only permitted form of gambling.
What about online gambling?
It’s also illegal but millions of Chinese play online anyway, regardless of what the law says.
What are the penalties for gambling in China?
Potentially a fine or imprisonment, but these penalties are rarely enforced against individuals.