Yes, gambling is illegal in China and technically speaking, any form of gambling has been outlawed since the Communist Party of China took over back in 1949. As such, at this point in time, anything from playing poker among friends with anything other than “make-pretend” money to gambling online is prohibited and punishable by law.
Does this mean Chinese citizens don’t gamble?
Not at all.
Just like when it comes to topics such as the Great Firewall of China, it is vital to point out that there is a world of difference between enacting laws and properly enforcing them. To continue with this parallel, just like pretty much any savvy Chinese Internet user can figure out ways to bypass the Great Firewall of China, it is anything but impossible for those who want to gamble to… well, gamble.
Possibilities abound, for example:
- Ironically enough, even possibilities facilitated by the government, more specifically the two lotteries operated by the Chinese authorities, the Welfare Lottery that has existed since 1987 on the one hand and the Sports Lottery that has existed as of 1994 on the other. As strange as it may seem, China does not consider participating in these two lotteries a from of gambling and as such, there we have it, they represent the most straightforward and pretty much only legal “obvious” option for those who are let’s say feeling lucky
- The previous statement is incomplete, however, because Chinese citizens can also “legally” gamble outside Mainland China, from Hong Kong and Macau to a wide range of other jurisdictions. Certain types of gambling are legal in Hong Kong, with the proverbial legal framework having been established back in 1977 and when it comes to Macau, things are taken to the next level, with gambling having been legal since 1850 and the industry flourishing over the past decades, as evidenced by the fact that Macau eventually ended up even surpassing Las Vegas in terms of gambling-related revenue. For more information on Hong Kong, please click HERE to read the article we have dedicated to it and for more information about how things work in Macau, click HERE
- Some readers might have imagined (in)famous movie scenes involving Chinese clandestine casinos and indeed, this option does exist for those who do not want to venture outside China, are not sophisticated enough to gamble online or simply prefer the “old school” approach, understanding that there can be dramatic consequences if they are caught
- Moving on, there is of course online gambling as a solution that is more hassle-free than the average observer realizes, with it being remarkably easy for even moderately tech-savvy individuals to bypass the Great Firewall of China (click HERE to find out more about the Great Firewall of China, from the goals of the authorities to its real-world limitations) and gain access to a wide range of platforms which facilitate online gambling. Once again, however, those who engage in this activity need to understand that if caught, the legal consequences can be dire
- Finally, leave it to creative individuals to figure out ways to gamble without “technically” gambling and in the spirit of just that, it should come as no surprise that for example cryptocurrency speculation abounds in China. Is this gambling? Technically speaking, no, with let’s say bitcoin representing an asset that has enough legitimacy behind it to be worth including (even if only marginally) in any portfolio. When it comes to the thousands upon thousands of so-called altcoins (bitcoin alternatives), “investing” in them is actually nothing more than gambling and for this reason, they ended up being attractive for Chinese citizens, South Korean citizens and so on. Even the authorities caught on eventually, which resulted in action being taken over in South Korea back in 2018 (speculation was so rampant in this jurisdiction that bitcoin traded at a premium as high as 30%) and as far as China is concerned, let’s just say its love-hate relationship with cryptocurrencies has been documented rather extensively here on ChinaFund.com. Also, in the spirit of providing a bit more anecdotal evidence, Chinese citizens have even become (in)famous for investing in cryptocurrency-oriented Ponzi schemes such as PlusToken which promised unrealistic returns and when it comes to the PlusToken scam alone, it managed to accumulate over 200,000 btc, roughly 1% of the maximum possible btc in circulation and more if we also factor in lost/unavailable coins. Again, just one Chinese Ponzi scheme managed to accumulate this much btc and amusingly enough, contributed decisively to 2019’s rather short-lived bull run, which should make the magnitude of this phenomenon crystal clear
We could continue with examples for quite a while but it should be blatantly obvious that immense demand is most definitely there or, to put it differently, Chinese citizens want to gamble and even if this practice has been illegal for over half a century, they tend to be creative enough to figure out ways around restrictive regulation.
Will the authorities eventually legalize gambling?
Difficult to tell but should that occur, game changing capital generation potential will undoubtedly be unleashed and as such, it is not outside the realm of reason to envision scenarios in which the Chinese government would budge. Perhaps it will end up being done to counter the covid-19-generated economic damage, maybe it will end up being done to counter China’s economic slowdown which was more than obvious even well before virus-related concerns emerged. We could speculate around this topic and turn this article into a novel but instead, will limit ourselves to pointing out that while nobody can predict the future, events such as the legalization of gambling would have such a meaningful economic impact that those who own Chinese assets or are interested in gaining exposure to Chinese assets have no choice but to keep their proverbial ears to the ground. Should you and/or your organization be in need of assistance with precisely this goal, the ChinaFund.com team is only a quick message away.