Online casinos are very popular on the Chinese Mainland because there are no legal land based casinos here. There are some underground slots parlors that run unlicensed and unregulated slot machine games scattered throughout the country. Similarly, there are some underground casinos, predominantly in Guangdong province. However, these operations are highly illegal and mostly run by criminal organizations, so we advise steering well clear of them.
The primary option for playing casino games legally in China is traveling to Macau or further afield where gambling is fully regulated and legal. Obviously getting up and flying overseas is not convenient to do on demand (mafan as we like to say here in China), so you should know we do have other options. In this article, I discuss Macau and the legal forms of gambling in China, but first I discuss a much more convenient option that doesn’t involve a plane or train journey – online casinos.
When choosing an online casino it is important to pick from those that are licensed in foreign countries. For example: the Philippines is one of the main countries where legitimate gambling licenses are issued. Any site that has received a Philippines license is sure to be regularly audited and is sure to be a safe place to play online. They only give licenses to reputable companies that pay winners promptly.
The same is true of the United Kingdom (UK) and their offshore territory the Isle of Man. Unlike some Central American countries where gaming licenses are given two a penny, the UK and the Philippines are legit setups whose approval cannot be paid for.
The Chinese casinos listed below are all licensed, well regulated, and offer games in Renminbi (RMB/CYN) currency. They also have both traditional and simplified Chinese websites and software.
To use these websites you need to register an account and make a deposit using your debit card (yes, Chinese debit cards are accepted) or using a bank transfer, either online or by going into your local bank and depositing money into the casinos account. The 4 sites above support our language, currency and accept Chinese debit card deposits. However, they have no physical presence in mainland China. They are doing all this from a country they are fully legal to operate in. As a result our police and laws have no jurisdiction over them.
As we know, some websites are blocked here by the humorously named “Great Firewall of China“. Some famous examples of these are Facebook and Youtube. The same thing happens occasionally with some online casinos. More in depth details on this and the laws are covered in my article titled Sports Betting in China.
China says no to Google, Twitter and online gambling; Image credit: TrinityNews.ie
A brief summary: the police are not concerned with citizens gambling online from the privacy of their own home, when it involves foreign sites. They are only concerned with going after the companies that are actually based in mainland, and their agents, promoters, banks and affiliates.
Although we have no legal casinos, we do have many forms of legal gambling. China Welfare Lottery has Union Lotto, Seven, and 3D Lottery as main number draws. It also has rapid draw games such as Happy 8 which is keno and PK Pickup which is virtual races held every 5 minutes.
The Chinese Sports Lottery has sports betting on football, basketball and baseball and number draws of Super lotto, Lotto 5/22, Seven Star, P5 and P3. We also have scratch tickets, semi-legal mah-jong and in some provinces Virtual Lottery Terminals (VLTs) that function similar to slot machines. That’s a lot of legal gambling.
In fact, in 2012 our Chinese Sports Lottery and Welfare Lottery combined for RMB 261.5 billion in net gambling win. This is more than the casino industry of any single country. If we add in our special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau we have the world’s largest legal gambling market. However, while these two SARs are now technically part of our country, they each have their own passports, immigration policy, currency, government and laws. Mainland residents are even required to get a visa to visit.
Some of the other gambling games that can be played here are often found in arcades alongside the likes of Street Fighter, Tekken and Dance Dance Revolution. A lot of these are extremely similar to those found in western games arcades such as the coin-pushing games where you try to push coins off a ledge and exchange any coins/tokens you win for prizes.
A slightly different and probably the most popular gambling game in arcades here is called “fishing master” (buyudashi 捕鱼大师in Chinese). This is a really simple game where you sit around a large screen with 5 other players and throw out nets to cash fish of various sizes. Trays of coins are purchased which are then fed into the machine, adding credits to the seat you’re in. These credits can then be used to improve/upgrade your net to make catching the fish easier. If you get lucky and manage to win, you can then cash out and exchange your coins in the game for real cash.
If you ever stumble upon an arcade here in China, you will be sure to find people sitting around a BuYuDaShi machine
As well as these games, people gamble for real money in China every day of the week. Whether it’s playing Mahjong in a tea house or residential compound, or playing cards in the back of a van (面包车), gambling is a huge part of our culture and is something of a national past time. Playing with friends can be for any amount, from small money right up to high stakes, though most people play at the lower end of the scale, simply for enjoyment and as a form of social entertainment. Our police don’t care about this and they probably even play themselves when they’re not on duty.
In many ways, online gambling is the same. Unless you’re part of some large crime ring or engaged in other criminal activity noone is going to care what you do with your own money in your own spare time. My point with this is that you should feel at ease about using online casinos, as it’s no different to the millions of other Chinese who are gambling on the streets and in other public places every day of the week.
Despite the visa requirements visiting Macau is hugely popular. Originally part of the Chinese Empire, it was leased to Portugal as a trade port way back in 1557. Due to having no anti-gambling laws during the 16th century there were gambling stalls set up all over the city for playing fantan and Pai Gow. It was mostly Chinese workers who played the games at the time.
By the 1800’s tai sai (sic bo) was added. Due to the British gaining control of Hong Hong in 1847 (which is a short one hour ferry ride from Macau), Macau’s relevancy as a trade city connecting the East and West became a thing of the past. To recover, this same year the Portuguese declared all games of chance legal in Macau. Casinos flourished here ever since.
By the early twentieth century, games from Europe such as baccarat, blackjack and roulette made it to the casinos. In 1961 Macau’s government declared Macau a permanent low-tax region with gambling tourism as its primary economic focus. This same year they issued a casino monopoly to Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM). This is a company that was founded by Stanley Ho, his brother in-law Teddy Yip, gambling legend Yip Hon, and business tycoon Henry Fok. By this time Macau had been apart from the Chinese empire for over 400 years, and both areas went in vastly different directions.
While Macau was expanding gambling at a rapid pace, on the mainland we were starting Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. The mere act of playing Mahjong even with no money involved was declared a crime. Meanwhile Macau added Western style slots, Japanese gambling games like Pachinko and helped put baccarat on the map as the most popular game played in Asia, and by Asians living anywhere in the world. Once Mao Zedong passed away China, repealed the law that banned mah-jong (1981) and started offering lottery games in 1987.
By this time, Macau was servicing over a million Chinese gamblers per year mostly from Mainland’s largest province Guangdong (which Macau borders) and Hong Kong (which is a one-hour boat ferry ride away). It also began attracting tourism from Thailand, Japan, Korea and India too. On 20 December 1999, 442-years of Portuguese rule of Macau came to an end with sovereignty transferred back to China.
Although Macau was a special administrative region with independence on nearly all matters, with their consent – our military was sent in to help clean up the country. During the 1990’s, control of casinos by triad gangs was a huge issue. In 2000, we helped reduce crime. That year casino revenue increased 42%.
In 2001 the casino monopoly came to an end. Additional concessions were granted to allow top gambling companies from around the world to enter the market. This included Crown from Australia, the Wynn and Sands Corporation (The Venetian) from Las Vegas, and now includes MGM too. Today Macau has legal lotteries, horse racing, greyhound racing, sports betting and 35 casinos – many of which are highly upscale. The 35 casinos alone generated RMB 236.2 billion in net win in 2012.
Macau is home to some of the world’s most luxurious casinos; left to right: the Venetian, Wynn, Grand Lisboa, the Galaxy
While Macau attracts gamblers from all over the world, Mainland China contributes by far the most. In 2012 they had 28,082,292 tourist arrivals. 16,902,499 (60.2%) were from Mainland China. Of visitors from mainland 7,929,668 (46.9%) were from Guangdong which borders Macau. There were 811,288 (4.8%) from Fujian, 620,196 (3.7%) from Zhejiang, 587,904 (3.5%) from Hunan, 505,280 (3.0%) from Shanghai and 326,469 (1.9%) from Beijing. This still leaves 6,121,694 (36.2%) from our other provinces not mentioned.
Again the reason Macau is so popular is because there are no legal mainland casinos. This area with a population of only 600,000 is the largest casino market in the world due to Chinese visitors looking to play casino games. You can probably imagine online gambling is many times more popular than this. In fact, gambling expert Wang Xuehong of Peking University estimates online gambling in the mainland is close to or perhaps even larger than the entire GDP of Beijing.
The casinos recommended on the top of this page are all very similar to those in Macau. Each has live dealer games. These are broadcast from a casino studio. There are real dealers who are tapped in and out that work at real casino tables. You can play baccarat, blackjack, roulette and sic-bo, placing your bets online and watching the action through the live casino’s webcam. They also have slots, video poker and other machine games. The only difference is it takes a couple days to get paid when you want to cash out your chips. This is a minor tradeoff for the benefit of being able to play at any time you wish.