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Myanmar, which is the country formerly known as Burma and still sometimes is still referred as Burma, with their people still referred to generally as Burmese, is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and the years of civil war here has just made the economic conditions of this country even worse. In particular, there is a substantial income gap, with the average wage here for industrial workers is only about $1000 a year. (1) Most people get by on even less than that.
So in a country this poor, one would think that there’s probably not much left over to spend on gambling, but this is not the case at all, and gambling is rampant in Myanmar in fact. It is said that 70% of Burmese people gamble illegally, and that doesn’t even count legal gambling, which they do have here to some extent anyway.
Myanmar does have legal casino gambling, but it’s limited to 4 venues and all are located in tourist areas and cater to visitors primarily. It’s not that Burmese people aren’t permitted to play there, they just don’t tend to have the money to stay at a resort casino and gamble, and all 4 legal casinos are of this variety.
The casino traffic in Myanmar tends to come mostly from neighboring countries China and Thailand. Casinos in China are limited to Macau, and a lot of Chinese like to come over to Myanmar to gamble, even though it’s still illegal under Chinese law to do so. The only casinos in Thailand are of the underground, illegal variety, and while Cambodia is the most popular destination for Thai tourists, a lot travel to Myanmar as well to gamble.
The market is underserved by the legal casinos though at present, something very evident when you look at all the purported illegal casinos that are in this country, which tend to be close to the border to look to attract people from neighboring countries. It is believed that the drug cartel that runs the opium trade is quite involved in this, and the government of Myanmar is seriously considering expanding the number of casinos in their country to better serve the demand. (3)
Myanmar also has a legal lottery, which goes all the way back to 1938 and is very popular, although they also have illegal lotteries as well, in addition to a very thriving bookmaking business, which is illegal but is very popular. The Burmese are particularly fond of betting on soccer matches, as soccer is a very popular sport in this country, and a lot of action is put on European soccer matches in particular.
In addition, illegal numbers betting, often depending on results from things like the Thai Lottery or the Thai Stock exchange, is very popular here. These forms of betting all have their own code names in Myanmar, sports betting is called “one digit,” betting on results from the Thai stock exchange is called “two digit,” and bets on the numbers drawn on the Thai lottery is called “three digit.”
Poker In Myanmar
Together, these three forms comprise most of the illegal gambling in Myanmar, and poker isn’t one of the forms of gambling that is very popular here at all. You can play some poker at the casinos, but since the people here don’t really visit them, very little is played, other than perhaps in informal private games.
So other than a few poker tables at the casinos, that’s about it as far as playing live poker here. Myanmar seems to be quite serious about making this country a real gambling hotspot and are out to attract foreign investment to make this happen, but none of this is really focused on the Burmese people themselves, but once again, we’re talking about a country with very low incomes that do like to gamble a lot but don’t really have much wherewithal to gamble in a big enough way to make live poker a going concern here, even if poker was more popular than it is.
Live poker rooms though do require certain minimal stakes so that they can generate enough rake to cover their operating costs and make a profit. So this is why you don’t see very small stakes or micro stakes rolled out in live poker.
In online poker though, poker rooms can offer the smallest stakes, and this is therefore much more suited to those on a very low budget, and in theory provide an opportunity for players with the smallest budgets to get involved. It simply takes a much smaller bankroll to play one and two cent blinds than it does one and two dollar blinds, a hundred times less of one to be exact.
So given the lack of popularity of poker here, and the lack of access to land based poker, and the much more appealing setup of online poker to the gambling needs of the Burmese, online poker is something that is at least viable here.
Myanmar is one of the countries that some of the bigger names don’t serve though, although in the case of Myanmar, it’s probably got more to do with the lack of the market size for online poker than anything the government is doing, in other words being classified as not a grey market but a dead one.
While many languages are supported by various online poker sites, Burmese isn’t one of them, so prospective online poker players in Myanmar face the additional obstacle of needing to have a good enough understanding of another language, like English, to be able to play poker online.
There are some online poker players from Myanmar these days although the size of this community is much smaller than you see from most other countries. There’s not a lot going on here to stimulate the growth of poker either, so this will likely not change a lot in the coming years.
Still though, if you’re from Myanmar and want to play online poker, unlike in neighboring Thailand where the government is dead set against this and goes to some serious lengths to try to stop people from doing it, no one really cares here, and you’re able to play all you want.