Gambling in China

| December 9th, 2015


Despite what movies have depicted of gambling in places like Macau, betting in the mainland portion of the People’s Republic of China is officially illegal. The fact of the matter is that certain institutions still offer gambling that is technically under the table, while special administrative regions in Hong Kong and Macau give the appearance to foreigners that gambling is a thriving, on-the-books enterprise.
Not all betting is strictly illegal, however. There are two special provisions under the law in mainland China under the China Welfare Lottery Issuance Centre (CWLC), which is regulated by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Those two government lotteries would be the welfare lottery and the sports lottery. The General Administration of Sports is authorized by the State Council to issue lottery tickets since 1994, which the China Sports Lottery Administration Centre (CSAC) is set up to regulate.

The Law
The letter of the law has been quite loosely defined since 1949 about casino games such as poker, the ancient Chinese tiled game of Mah-Jong, and sports betting outside of legal channels. This official legislation was the culmination of hundreds of years trying to curb the gambling habits of Chinese citizens by imposing harsh fines and even threatening and in some cases following through with imprisonment.
Still, officials prefer to have leeway where possible to prosecute on a case by case basis. Article 303 in the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China states the following: ‘whoever, for the purpose of profit, gathers people to engage in gambling, runs a gambling house or makes gambling his profession shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention or public surveillance and shall also be fined.’
So, it is with great interpretation in the eyes of the law enforcement that this law can be applied. In 2012, some 347,000 citizens were found guilty under this definition of gambling, while 30,000 illegal casinos and 10,000 gang members were round up and put out of operation. While these numbers might in fact be sensationalized for the media in order to dissuade would-be casino starters or goers from doing anything, most of these cases just receive fines, a slap on the wrist and nothing more.

Playing the Lottery
The sanctioned lottery market, in contrast, ranks second to only the US at $40 billion in the year 2012. This market has been expanding since 2007, with a steady growth rate of 25%. In fact, in 2010 alone, the lottery market in China posted profits in excess of RMB69 billion, a full three quarters of which was used to pay for projects related to social welfare as well as building new community sports centres to promote physical activity.

The Digital Realm
While electronic means of gambling is another grey zone that is not strictly regulated, the internet police in China do work to dissuade players from going to the best mobile casino and other sites by blocking their IP addresses. Because the government does not grant licenses to these foreign operations, they are supposedly illegal, but again, the law is not super clear on this matter. Not only are there well-known ways to circumvent what has affectionately become known as the Great Firewall of China, but there are many sites worldwide, including bingo game sites like online bingo William Hill  that accept Chinese players, and some that even cater to the massive market of gamblers in the largest country in the world. These casinos are replete with specific language options that cater to traditional and simplified Chinese language readers, as well as facilitating payment options that are accessible to mainland users.
Make no mistake about it, the market in China is set up for a boon whenever legislation finally opens up. When that will be is a matter of time.

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