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How Gambling Laws Work in China

China is infamous for heavy censorship and scrutiny on many subjects. And as gambling, drugs, and prostitution are considered social evils by Chinese leaders, the general assumption is that gambling is illegal in China. While that may be true for the most part, there are many wrinkles to the gambling laws between Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Forms of Gambling in China, Macau, and Hong Kong

Many Westerners are confused between these 3 places. However, each one has very different laws regarding gambling.

Mainland China

Mainland China has the strictest laws against gambling. It is illegal to engage in most types of gambling, online or land-based, organized, or casual. The Chinese Communist Party even prevents the act of opening casinos abroad to attract Chinese citizens. Those involved in illegal gambling will usually have to pay some sort of a fine but in rare cases a person can end up behind bars for as much as  3 years.

china flag

That said, Chinese citizens are free to participate in government-run lotteries. There are 2 types of lotteries: the Welfare Lottery and the China Sports Lottery. The revenue of these lotteries accounted for $60.12 billion in 2019 – this money goes into the government for funding social projects to support those in need and sports venues for the youth.

Hong Kong

Gambling in Hong Kong is also illegal, but ironically you can advertise gambling. Many casinos in Macau put up advertisements in Hong Kong to attract customers there since Hong Kong is right next door to Macau.

Similar to Mainland China, the only legal form of gambling here is horse race betting, football betting, and lotteries. All of these are run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a body of the government. They are the only approved organization in Hong Kong.

hong kong

Those who run illegal gambling organizations are subjected to 7 years in prison at the maximum. If someone only takes part in one, the punishment is a penalty of HK$30,000 and a prison sentence of up to 9 months.

Macau

It’s an understatement to say that gambling is legal in Macau because this place is a gambling paradise. Macau has actually surpassed Las Vegas as a top destination for gamblers – in 2019, it grossed $36.7 billion from gambling and gaming.

Gambling has been legal here since the 1850s and it’s contracted to remain so until 2049. But it’s hard to see a future where gambling is banned in Macau because a huge part of the country’s income is due to tourism generated by casinos.

macau

Like the others, all casinos are regulated by the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau of Macau. Interestingly enough, online gambling is not regulated by the Macau government, thus making it illegal. However, the citizens here are allowed to join online casinos abroad, so it works out for the customers after all.

Gambling For Expats

If you’re a foreigner staying in China, you’re subjected to almost the same situation as the Chinese citizens. This means you can engage in national lotteries, but illegal gambling may lead to imprisonment and you’ll be prevented from leaving the country.

Online gambling is still okay for expats, as long as you can find a site that is not blocked. Some payment issuers also work with the Chinese government, making it extra hard to access your winnings.

roulette table

If you want to play at a casino in Macau, you have to be at least 21 years old. Remember to bring your passport to the casino because it’s the only age verification document accepted by the casino security.

Brief History of The Gambling Laws In China

The Wei, Tang, and Song Dynasty (403 BC – 1279)

During the rule of these three early empires in China, gambling was strictly prohibited. To elaborate on ‘strictly’, offenders during the Tang dynasty can be sent to do military service and the Emperor of the Song dynasty insisted that habitual gamblers have their hands cut off. The punishment applied to government officials is even worse, which included execution.

Influence From Other Countries

The 1800s sees China affected by many wars, resulting in England, Japan, and others gaining sovereignty over different regions of China. As a result, gambling became popular in China during this time. Horse racing was introduced in 1842 in Shanghai, Macau, and Hong Kong; Japan brought lotteries to Taiwan in 1906. Other games namely Pai Gow, Sic Bo, Fan Tan, and Mahjong were also widespread.

horse racing

People’s Republic of China

From 1949 onwards, China became a one-party state governed by the Communist Party. In its early days of this era, all forms of gambling, even lotteries, were banned. There were, and still are labor programs to re-educate illegal gamblers. During the Cultural Revolution from 1966, even casually playing Mahjong with no money was illegal.

In 1984, sports betting was reopened for one specific event: the Beijing International Marathon. From then, sports betting took off, approved by the State Council but in 1986, the government put out policies to restrict it again.