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China Online Casinos

ChinaThe People’s Republic of China is the most populous nation in the world, as it is home to well over 1.3 billion people. Combine that with the traditional popularity of gambling in Chinese culture, and you have what seems like the perfect formula for a massive gaming market, both at live venues and online.

But that’s not quite the case today. Sure, Chinese gamblers have plenty of options for placing their bets, but few of them are actually legal within mainland China; looking for high-stakes gaming opportunities usually means traveling to Macau, Singapore, or even further afield. And while online casinos may not be welcomed with open arms by the government, offshore sites are popular here, with many offerings their games throughout the country to the numerous players who are interested in betting over the Internet. Cryptocurrencies have also proven popular with Chinese casino players, with users flocking to bitcoin casinos to play real money games online.

Nearby Casino Hubs Serve Players

According to many sources, gambling has been a part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. Games like pai gow, mahjong, and even what we consider modern lotteries are believed to have originated at various times in China, making it the birthplace of many of the world’s most popular ways to bet. Today, it is still recognized that the Chinese people (as well as those of many Asian cultures) have a strong interest in betting, making them a common target for casino operators, but also sometimes making them more susceptible to compulsive gambling issues as well.

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Yet despite all of this, there is very little legal gambling in China today, at least on the mainland. It is well-known that Macau (despite some recent struggles) is the largest center for casino play in the world today, and Hong Kong also offers plenty of legal betting opportunities, albeit no casinos. But other than in these special regions, gambling is considered an illegal activity.

That doesn’t mean that absolutely no betting is condoned by the state. Lotteries operated by the government are not considered gambling for legal purposes, and there are two that are offered throughout the country: the Sports Lottery and the Welfare Lottery. There have also been discussions about bringing casinos to areas of the nation, particularly in the province of Hainan, but these efforts have seen little progress thus far.

There is also a Sports-Toto type system that is common throughout Asia. This is pools based sports betting and shops can be found throughout China.

Sometimes, efforts to push the boundaries of what is allowed under Chinese law have caused dramatic events to play out in the country. Over the last few years, there has been increased interest in poker in the nation, with groups like the World Poker Tour and PokerStars starting to make more efforts to expand their presence and grow the game in what was seen as a market with the potential for explosive growth.

But while many events were held without incident, the National Police shut down an event known as the Nanjing Millions in the middle of the festival in April 2015, claiming it was illegal gambling and putting into question the future of poker here.

None of this should be taken to suggest that gambling isn’t widespread in China, however. Many illegal operations flourish throughout the nation, ranging from non-governmental lotteries to illicit dens that operate like casinos or simply betting on traditional games. Betting legally is also easy: as we’ve already noted, Macau is an extremely popular destination for tourists from the mainland, meaning that most gamblers have the option to play legally for high stakes from time to time.

Internet Controls Don’t Always Stop Players

Censorship of the Internet in China is a major issue, as the national government – with the cooperation of service providers owned by the state and other organizations – heavily regulates what can be legally posted online, and what sites users have access to. This doesn’t necessarily stop tech-savvy users from getting at the information they want, but it does stop others who aren’t willing to go out of their way to seek out sites that aren’t approved.

This situation appears chilling to many when it comes to the ability of the average citizen to seek out independent sources for news or to express their criticism of government policy. In a less critical sense, the same problems exist for those interested in online casinos, as the government does not license or approve any Internet gambling whatsoever. The state frequently attempts to block gaming sites, though these efforts are sometimes entirely ineffective, and even when they succeed, knowledgeable players can still find ways around these bans.

That means that gaming sites that are operated locally are non-existent, or at least can’t be relied on to stay in business for very long. On the other hand, many sites based in other jurisdictions do allow Chinese citizens to sign up and play slots and other games for real money. These sites typically are willing to do business in this large market where there is no regulatory framework, hoping players can find their way through any attempts to block the casinos and constantly trying to stay ahead of these efforts.

Luckily, there are many online casinos that accept Chinese players and locals have a great selection of sites that they can play on, many of which use the same top-notch software seen in other markets. That means you’ll see software packages such as the following:

  • Playtech
  • Microgaming
  • NetEnt
  • SoftSwiss
  • BetSoft
  • Novomatic

Tight Control Makes Liberalization Unlikely

There’s plenty to talk about when it comes to the future of the gaming industry in China. Much has been made of the recent downturn in Macau: while the market is still the largest in the world, revenues and profits have dropped significantly over the last two years. This is due to a variety of factors, but perhaps the largest is an anti-corruption crackdown from the Chinese government. This has had the effect of drastically cutting the flow of cash from the mainland to Macau’s resorts, dramatically reducing the VIP segment that those casinos count on so badly.

Of course, gamblers here aren’t going to stop placing bets, so they have instead moved much of their play to other locations: Australia and Las Vegas, for instance, are popular alternatives. That means that it’s always possible that the government could reexamine the issue of allowing a casino on the mainland – though we suspect that if the crackdown has had the effect of slowing the flow of money out of the country (and into the pockets of casino operators), the government won’t feel any need to do this in the near future.

There’s also the question of how poker will be treated in the country going forward. Some poker clubs are licensed in the country, but others have been busted for operating illegally, and it is often difficult to tell what the authorities will decide should or shouldn’t be allowed on a day to day basis. That uncertainty could scuttle efforts to turn China into a market that could breathe new life into the poker world.

When it comes to online play, though, we suspect that locally run Chinese casino sites will be slow to develop, at least for the foreseeable future. With a government so intent on controlling what its citizens see on the Internet, it is unlikely that they would suddenly make an exception for gambling, and we don’t see a scenario where they start regulating such sites anytime soon, either (though that is a more plausible scenario if you want to imagine progress being made here). That means that Chinese players will have to continue relying on foreign sites if they want to place bets online anytime soon.

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