Special Report – Gambling in Hainan?

Will China ever allow gambling outside of Macau? The answer seems obvious, but the truth is that, until the beginning of the last decade, those responsible for the Hainan Province had nurtured the dream of getting an exception. 

MB October 2020 Special Report | The Chinese Gambler

The arguments were relatively simple: if more than 75 per cent of Macau’s gambling customers are mainland Chinese, why not lure those customers into mainland China itself, preventing them from going to Cambodia or South Korea, for example? 

Until the middle of the past decade, the Chinese Central Government seemed to have considered the issue. Or was it the local Hainan authorities who overstepped the mark? … “The Chinese government is considering allowing limited casino development in well-established resort areas, such as Hainan. Since early 2013, ‘cashless casinos’, where winnings cannot be cashed but can be traded for goods (e.g. jewellery, artwork) or services (e.g. meals, accommodation), have operated on Hainan Island, with operators arguing they have the government’s blessing, while the government maintains they are illegal and have cracked down on them on more than one occasion” can be read in the report “Eyes on casino gaming in China: Residents’ attitudes towards pre-casino development in Sanya”. 

According to the same document (2014), “Given the Chinese interest in gaming and increased travel abroad with the purpose of gambling, the government has been assessing the feasibility of allowing casinos in a few locations in China besides Macau. Planners and investors are exploring ways to allow gaming for tourism development on the holiday island of Hainan. Because of its natural, geographical, and cultural advantages, Sanya City is considered the most desired destination for gaming and therefore a potential competitor for Macau.” 

But by the end of 2018, the Chinese authorities officially released the “Implementation Plan for the Construction of an International Tourism Consumption Center in the Hainan Province”, which defines the development of the sports and tourism industry in the Hainan province, including establishing horse racing and sports lotteries. 

For now, legal betting in mainland China is limited to the Welfare Lottery and the Sports Lottery. However, the Chinese government does not legally consider the lotteries a form of gambling.  

“Lucky draw” 

Mainland China is not alone in its attempts, by all possible means, to eliminate illegal gambling – Macau is doing the same, with the same commitment. 

With so much effort, in fact, that sometimes can be seen as going too far: last year, a local online food takeaway was charged with “illegal organization” because its lucky draw was found to be violating the law. 

Macau’s Judiciary Police found out that the customers who wanted to participate in the lucky draw would pay MOP 1 as a kind of entry fee in advance. The Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) and Judiciary Police alleged that the lucky draw was like offering gambling services. 

Apart from these details, Macau has proven successful in combating illegal gambling sites: between 2018 and 2019, the PJ received 636 complaints involving illegal gambling, 450 of which have already been effectively blocked. 

But be warned: these sites, which have a reference to somewhere in Macau, are not registered in the MSAR or hosted on local servers, which makes combating them more difficult. 

Taiwan: yes or no? 

Mainland China and Taiwan take the same approach to gambling: they both consider it an illegal practice. 

However, in 2009, the construction of casinos on some offshore islands under Taipei’s administration started to be allowed.  

The Penghu Islands case was the first to emerge, but a local public referendum voted down the plan. 

In 2012, the Matsu Islands also proposed the development of a casino. A referendum clearly said yes, and an investor stepped forward. But the Taipei government never showed willingness to change the law, a requirement that the investor had made. 

The investment was stopped, but it is not certain that it was cancelled. 

The Matsu Islands are five miles off the coast of the Chinese mainland…