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Laos, officially known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, or Lao PDR, has been under communist rule since 1975. So the communists aren’t known to be friendly to gambling and in fact gambling is technically illegal here.
However, I use the word technically because there is plenty of gambling going on in Laos, and while it’s not unusual for countries to make gambling illegal while it still proliferates on the underground scene, the difference in Laos is that it’s both illegal and proliferates above ground as well.
So Laos actually has some land based casinos and some impressive ones at that. There are 3 large casinos that operate here, in full view, although given that they aren’t officially operating legally they aren’t regulated, as governments have to license casinos to regulate them and none of that goes on here. (2)
The Laos government seems content enough to ignore these casinos though, and to ignore the anti gambling laws generally as well, and this view had to be a pretty stable one for these casinos to ever have been built actually, as it’s hard to imagine a company being willing to risk the huge investment that a large casino involves without a lot of reassurance that they won’t just get shut down, lose their investment, and even be thrown in jail.
The anti-gambling laws in Laos though, as per the Laos Penal Code, Article 76, which makes it a crime to engage in “forbidden gambling,” although it’s not made clear what forbidden gambling means here. Many believe it means all gambling but if this were the case then the law would have likely prohibited gambling in general and not forbidden gambling in particular.
So perhaps this section was included more as a facade, and it sure seems that way considering people aren’t found to be committing “forbidden” gambling. What’s even more noteworthy is that the law here doesn’t address banning of running commercial gambling operations, it just forbids one running a forbidden gambling operation out of one’s own residence, and again, what constitutes forbidden gambling is left up in the air. (3)
So in the excluding of running commercial gambling operations, the operators of these casinos, very surprisingly, aren’t breaking the law, and while the people who gamble at them may be, it seems that the gambling they are doing here isn’t considered to be forbidden, or at least the authorities are looking the other way if it is.
There is also said to be several underground casinos that run along the border here, looking to entice people from neighboring countries to play, although little is known about them and they certainly aren’t anywhere near as safe to play at as the larger, more above board ones.
Playing Poker In Laos
In spite of having land-based casinos, Laos doesn’t have any live poker rooms or poker tables, and the best you’ll find at the casinos is casino poker, playing against the house, which isn’t considered to be real poker by real poker players, as the game is intended to be played against other opponents instead.
There is known to be a fair number of poker home games though and there are websites which provide a directory of sorts of these games, but that’s pretty much all the live poker you will find here. Poker isn’t particularly popular in Laos as of yet, although as time goes on that may change, as the game becomes more popularized as it has in other Asian countries.
In some countries though in the region, ones better off economically that is, people get a taste of live poker by traveling to the casinos in Macau, which have plenty of live poker. Not a lot of people from Laos go to Macau on holiday though, probably much more due to the fact that very few could ever afford to do that.
The Asian Poker Tour hasn’t made its way to Laos yet, although it is in neighboring Vietnam now, and this sort of thing does help promote the game a fair bit, so if and when that happens, perhaps poker will catch on a little more in Laos as well.
For those who are in Laos and wish to play real money poker though, there’s always the internet, and while internet access isn’t exactly widespread here, 10% of the population now have access to it, which isn’t as low as some countries at least. However, Laos does sit in 169th place on the list of countries with the highest percentage of their population having internet access, so they do have quite a ways to go in order to catch up with most of the rest of the world. (4)
A lot of people without internet access may not even have money to play online poker, although the great thing about online poker, as opposed to live poker, is that very low stakes games can be rolled out online, to accommodate players with the smallest bankrolls, so those who may only have as little as $25 or so to deposit can still get quite a bit of mileage out of that.
The good news is that Laos isn’t targeted as one of the countries where online poker sites have pulled out of, so online players from Laos have a full selection of online poker sites to choose from, and can play wherever they want, as much as they want.
The government doesn’t seek to deny people access to online poker sites by blocking them either, which is another good thing, even though people in countries where this is done do find some fairly easy ways around this, provided they have internet access and a little money to play online poker with.
So things are actually pretty good in Laos when it comes to playing poker, and if you have the means to do so, there’s nothing stopping you.
2. Laos Casinos