It is often felt that gambling is illegal in China, other than in the regions of Macau and Hong Kong. However, a closer look at the law here reveals that the law against gambling involves only making illegal the operation of unapproved gambling operations, as well as gambling as a profession. Here’s how the law reads exactly:
“Article 303: 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.” (1)
So it’s not illegal to gamble in China per se, as long as you weren’t gambling as a profession, which is something that poker players do need to take heed of, as many poker players do play professionally.
This does tend to limit live poker in China to these social settings though, or at underground establishments, but in playing at one it is only the operator of the establishment that risks being charged and convicted.
There is actually quite a bit of these secret gambling operations that go on, and given China’s massive population, combined with the fact that legal gambling operations are limited to just two areas of the country, with the rest of the country being limited to just playing the lottery, which is legal in China everywhere, and the newfound wealth that has been created here, it isn’t surprising that there are a lot of high stakes games that run off the grid in the country. (2)
Live Poker In China
The underground gambling market here is a huge one in fact, and is growing fast over the last few years. So in terms of live poker, it will suffice to say that in spite of it being against the law to for people to offer commercial poker in China generally, there’s plenty of games to be had all throughout the country, even though they may not be legal games.
Of the two regions that gambling is permitted, Macau is by far the biggest as far as the amount of gambling that goes on, and is actually considered to be the Las Vegas of the East. It’s actually bigger than Vegas, raking in 5 times the revenue that Las Vegas does. There are a total of 36 casinos here, not just casinos but casino hotels, and gambling is truly huge here.
The big game in Macau isn’t poker though, it’s baccarat, which accounts for 90% of gambling revenue here. There is still a very good amount of poker action though, and players can select from a number of very good locations to play their favorite game. (4)
Hong Kong, on the other hand, does offer a little legal gambling, where people can place bets at a couple of racetracks that they have there, but that’s it as far as sanctioned gambling goes. (5) There’s a whole lot of the unsanctioned type though, including a lot of illegal poker clubs, which the police do crack down on from time to time.
Poker’s popularity has also been boosted by big tournament poker hosting live events in China, and this has now expanded to the mainland as well, with the Asia Pacific Poker Tour making Beijing one of its stops now. (6) The authorities did permit this of course, which may be a sign that they are loosening up a little anyway as technically speaking this event would be against the law if they hadn’t looked the other way.
It will probably be a while before we ever see legal poker rooms in Mainland China though, but one day this may come to fruition, as their movement toward capitalism continues to evolve, but some think this may happen in the next few years as things loosen up more.
Online Poker in China
It is not legal for Chinese online poker sites to operate, so there are none, nor are there any plans to start up any, or to even regulate online poker. This leaves international online sites though, and there are plenty of those of course, and this is where players turn to when there is no regulated poker in the country where they live, and many do so even when their country does have regulated poker, as some may still prefer the unregulated ones.
The online poker world has been casting their eyes toward China for a number of years now, as China’s population of almost 1.4 billion people certainly does represent a huge market. Poker hasn’t historically been a very popular game in China though, and it’s only very recently that it is catching on, although it is catching on very fast lately.
Officials here do realize that given that there are no Chinese online poker sites, no one is breaking the law as far as far as operating these sites, as the Chinese recognize that these sites are outside their jurisdiction, something that not all countries properly admit to.
As far as the players go, they aren’t breaking the law because it’s not against the law to gamble online, but this still doesn’t mean the government wishes people to play. China is well known for its censoring of the internet and can and will block any websites it does not feel to be appropriate for its people, and this includes gambling and online poker websites. (7)
It’s not that they always block poker websites, but this can certainly happen here, although the first thing you need to know is that this blocking is limited to the online poker website itself. People aren’t blocked from playing there, the most they can be blocked from is downloading the software, and once they do that, they are in the clear.
The Chinese have been well accustomed to getting around this censorship, and the use of virtual private networks to access the internet is very popular here in general, and this is the tool that online poker players use to get around these poker related restrictions.
So all you do is log on to the network and then you can travel to any site you wish without government detection, and that solves the problem. So there are now a lot of online poker players living in China and while there is still a lot of room for growth, as not everyone is aware of this means of playing, the market here is expected to continue to grow.
Since the government here does not embrace gambling officially, there is no reason to think that regulated online poker may come here anytime soon, although if it ever did, it would be huge. In the mean time, Chinese players, the ones in the know at least, continue to play on.
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