In Lao PDR even though gambling is widespread, it is technically not legal. Our penal code (Article 83) was updated in 2005 (effective 2006) to increase the penalty for ”any person indulging in forbidden gambling” to a fine of between 200,000 Kip and 2,000,000 Kip. In the years that followed, our country opened legal casinos and the law was largely ignored. Still, even though it is mostly overlooked, if you are a Lao local – gambling in person might not be a good idea. I explain why in this article and also talk about online casinos which are a much safer option when used correctly.
There are a handful of online casinos based in Lao PDR, where it is possible to settle in person using cash. An example I discuss later in this article is Savan Vegas. This brick and mortar casino offers online services too. It is however concerning that there is no gambling commission to check if these Laotian game-operators are offering fair games. Also, because gambling is “technically” illegal in Lao PDR, there is no one to turn to if the company refuses to pay when you win.
It is my opinion that using foreign online casinos is a much safer option. While these overseas websites do not offer Lao Language or Kip currency, neither do our own! Our local casinos are set up to service tourists. More on that to come, but if you know a second language, or use Google translate you can play casino games for free or for real money online.
In the Philippines, United Kingdom (UK), and several other countries, gambling is legal. These countries have legitimate government-approved gambling commissions that test to make sure the companies they give licenses to are offering fair games to their customers. Furthermore, these gambling companies are legal in the countries where they are based and all pay winning players. The ones listed below are all licensed, well regulated, and come highly recommended.
Note: when opening a free account at any of the above sites, you will be given the option to select which currency you would like to use. Again, none offer Lao Kip (LAK). I strongly suggest you use the currencies suggested in the table above (i.e GBP at 888, etc.). The reason for this is simple – by using the suggested currency, you will pay the least amount of banking fees.
Please be aware that foreign betting sites do not offer credit. This means in order to wager you’ll need to make a deposit. Say for example you deposit £42 (about ₭500,000) and then bet £10 on a hand of blackjack. If you win your balance will be £52 and if you lose your balance will be £32. No matter what the table-limits are, you can never wager more than you have in your account balance. The methods available for deposit from Lao PDR are as follows:
Getting Paid: Unless restricted by the terms of an accepted bonus offer, players can withdraw all or part of their account balance at any time. To do this just log-in to your account, visit the cashier, click withdraw and complete the request. For Lao the most common payout method available is wire transfer but some sites also offer MoneyGram or Western Union. Even if the site transfers you in USD, GBP, THB or another currency you can still pick up the money in Lao Kip (LAK). For bank wires, your home bank will convert the transfer to Kip as well.
Bonus Offers: Most online gambling sites offer bonuses to new customers when they make their first deposit. For example, one might offer 100% up to 1,500 baht (THB) free. This means if you deposit 1,500 Thai Baht you will have 3,000 Thai Baht to gamble with. There is however always a catch. If you decided to take a bonus, you must first meet the play-through requirements before you can request a cash out. With the bonus just mentioned, if the requirement was 30-times rollover this means you need to wager (30*3,000 THB ie 90,000 THB) prior to requesting a payout. Therefore, you should consider how much you will play at the site before you accept a bonus.
With the basics of playing online now covered I will compare this to playing in real world casinos in Lao PDR.
As mentioned at the start of this article, gambling in casinos is illegal in Lao with the penalty being a fine of 200,000 Kip to 2,000,000 Kip. The penalty is even stricter for owning or operating a betting website. Article 83 of our penal code also states: “ Any person consenting to the use of his house as a gambling premises or acting as the chief gambler or found to have engaged in [gambling] recidivism, shall be punished by three months to two years of imprisonment or by re-education without deprivation of liberty and shall be fined from 500,000 Kip to 10,000,000 Kip.”.
The reason large luxury casinos are allowed to operate here is because they are located in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). These are on land that the Lao government leases out, usually for 99-year periods. The idea is that SEZs are established for the purpose of foreign trade. This often involves tourism but can also involve other industries such as exports. The SEZs that feature casinos ban Lao locals and operate in a currency other than Kip.
Take the case of Savan Vegas which opened in April 2009. This is located only 3km from the second Lao‐Thai Friendship Bridge that connects our Savannakhet province with Thailand’s Mukdahan province. They operate solely in Thai baht (THB) and about 1,500 Thais cross the border to gamble at Savan each day. However, each day, despite being banned, an average of 550 Lao PDR locals can be found doing the same. That figure does not even count the many Laotians who play at Savan’s branch located right at the local border gate.
The same situation is happening all over Laos. There is a border post casino at seven of the eight Lao-Thai crossings. We also have Kings Roman which is a large casino near the Golden Triangle and many underground casinos in small villages which operate from people’s homes. This is all possible because the law against locals gambling is mostly ignored, or is it?
The biggest risk Lao PDR locals face is not getting paid when we win big. If you go to the casino every day and lose money, of course they don’t mind paying you the few times you win. However, let’s say you don’t go often and one day you show up and hit a large jackpot on a slot machine. The casino might then ask for your ID, claim that you played at their casino illegally (even though they normally don’t mind) and threaten to call the police. You see, the idea the law is ignored may or may not be true – most gamblers lose and therefore no one minds the illegal play by locals. However, when it comes to paying out, they might decide to screw you and if this happens, there is nothing you can do about it.
Signs at the Thai border warn people that gambling in Laos is not advisable and might even endanger their lives
So the two main concerns are whether or not the games are fair and also whether you will get paid on a big win. However, there is also a question of safety. Above is a photo of a sign that is placed at Thailand’s Nong Khai border crossing to Vientiane. Although I can’t think of any incident in that area, safety concerns regarding our SEZs have been an issue in the past.
In 2003, our government leased 21-square kilometers of land that was situated near China’s Yunnan Province to a group led by Huang Minxuan. He is originally from China’s Fujian Province, was a naturalized Hong Kong citizen, and previously had involvement with casinos in Myanmar that targeted players in Beijing. His group named this area Golden Boten City and spent USD $200-$300 million developing it.
In Golden Boten City, all the signs were in Mandarin and the clocks were an hour ahead so that Chinese time was displayed instead of local time. The casinos, brothels and pubs only accepted Chinese currency. In fact, initially no visas were required for Chinese to visit – not even a passport was needed. But, as told by FORBES ASIA, things turned ugly and Bolten City shutdown:
Just as fast as gamblers from China turned this remote site into the Macau of the jungle, Golden Boten City melted down. Stories in the Chinese media talked about hostages held over gambling debts. Residents told FORBES ASIA of bodies dumped in the river. China cut off electricity and telecom service to the enclave and started requiring visas. “We heard reports of killings, of people disappearing,” an official of Golden Boten City Ltd., the developer, told FORBES ASIA during a visit in May. (The developer said it didn’t run the casinos; that was done by several little-known operators from abroad.) “We don’t disagree that there have been problems here, but we are working to correct them.”
Days later the last casinos shut down. (This is an excerpt – Full Story in English Here)
The situation with Savan Vegas is however much different. In case you’re not aware, there are far more ethnic-Laotians living in Thailand than in Laos PDR. Also, in Thailand there are over 20 million Lao speakers and in Northeast Thailand (the area Savan Vegas is located near) Lao is the primary spoken-language in 88% of homes. This is the reason Lao locals can easily gamble here. Other than differences in education, media, political philosophy etc. that have since been learned (for example they write Lao using Thai characters) – both sides of the border near Savan (Thai + Lao) share the same ethnicity.
Once a thriving tourist area, Golden Boten City is now just a run down, ruinous ghost town
Again, for us Lao locals: we know they will gladly take our money when we lose, but will they pay if we win big? While I have no fears for safety in that area, I do have to ask, with so much corruption how do we know the games are fair?
To reiterate: it is the strong opinion of Asiabet that foreign online casinos are the best option for Lao PDR locals looking to gamble. Many of these have live dealer games where human dealers spin the roulette wheel, deal the cards in blackjack and baccarat, and shake the dice in Sic-Bo in an actual live dealer studio. Their actions are broadcast online using the latest video technology. When betting you should only use honest, secure and reliable companies. The ones listed at the top of this page are exactly that. Good luck.