Asia — home to many developed economies and 60% of the world’s population — is always a topic of interest for international gambling operators. Add to this a lightning-fast rate of digital technology adoption, and you get a continent full of opportunities. However, strict regulations and conservative governments make it a challenging landscape for operators to navigate.
Despite outright bans and other restrictions, many Asian nations have strong gambling traditions and therefore a high level of cultural acceptance. Technically savvy populations use VPNs to access foreign online gambling platforms, and widespread cryptocurrency ownership allows players to gamble despite limitations on bank transactions. This, and the fact that some governments are discussing, planning, or already implementing proper gambling regulation, makes the continent well worth operators’ attention.
Gambling in China is illegal, with the exception of the two state-run lotteries — the Welfare Lottery and the Sports Lottery. However, Chinese nationals can gamble in two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic, Macau and Hong Kong.
The Chinese government’s staunchly anti-gambling stance has had a profound influence far beyond the country’s borders, with nearby countries often targeting Chinese tourists with their land-based casinos.
Despite the restrictions, however, Chinese players are famously happy to visit offshore platforms, particularly enjoying Chinese-speaking live dealer games based in the Philippines.
A former Portuguese colony, Macau is often called “the Las Vegas of Asia,” and its 41 casinos, millions of tourists, and countless neon lights seem to fully justify the moniker. Unlike Vegas, Macanese establishments focus on attracting high-stakes professional gamblers rather than casual players.
Despite its status as a legendary gambling destination, online casinos are banned on the island, with the local regulatory agency issuing a public warning in 2015.
Hong Kong is the other special administrative region of China, enjoying a relatively high degree of autonomy. Gambling is legal, but strictly regulated. All forms of betting are a monopoly of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, while casino gaming is restricted to dedicated cruise ships — and even there, only when outside the island’s territorial waters.
Online casinos remain illegal, and the government is known to take action against black market operators.
As India has a federal system of government, gambling regulations used to be completely in the hands of individual states. The result was that some states regulated all or some forms of gambling while others banned it completely.
Land-based casinos are allowed in Goa and Sikkim, which also regulates online gaming, sports betting, and horse racing; Nagaland permits online skill games; and the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana explicitly prohibit online casino gaming. In all others, it is unregulated (except those in which casino gaming is officially regulated). Lotteries are subject to state monopoly.
However, 2023 brought some significant changes to this system when the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) amended the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, introduced a new Finance Bill, and created a legal framework for “self-regulatory bodies.” The self-regulatory bodies consisted of companies with domain expertise and representatives in the fields of education, mental health, and the protection of child rights.
This step is a big change in the Indian gambling market — it is the first federal-level regulation that aims to provide players with data and money security by defining two types of allowed gambling operations: online games for prizes, but not real money (permissible online games) and online games for real money that have to be verified by the self-regulatory body (permissible online real-money games).
Gambling operators (“Online Gaming Intermediaries”) will have to make sure their content is verified by the self-regulatory bodies before it’s accessed by the local players.
Indian players love sports betting, with cricket being a particular favorite. Casino games such as Andar Bahar and Teen Patti are very popular, as are card games poker and rummy.
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The Philippines have an interesting regulatory system: licenses and control over gambling operations are handled by two organizations, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA).
PAGCOR takes care of the licensing process for bingo houses, betting shops, cardrooms, and land-based casinos, while CEZA issues licenses to online gambling operators — which, however, are not allowed to offer their services within the country.
Surprisingly, though, it’s not illegal for foreign operators to offer iGaming services to Filipino citizens, as it’s not expressly prohibited by any piece of legislation. Additional confusion comes from the fact that PAGCOR began offering Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator licenses (or POGOs), which provide an alternative to CEZA. They are not allowed to offer their services to the local citizens; their main audience comes from neighboring China.
Operators holding CEZA licenses have to pay a gaming levy based on their gross gaming revenues (GGR). PAGCOR licenses are valid for three years, and operators holding one (including POGOs) are only subject to a 5% tax on their turnover.
Japanese law considers gambling an offense and defines it as “an act of betting property or assets on the outcome of a contest of chance.” Horse racing, motorsports, mahjong, pachinko, and state lottery are the only allowed verticals, but foreign online casinos accept Japanese players.
The casino gaming gap is plugged by the citizens’ love of pachinko, a pinball-type game that dances around the definition of gambling by offering prizes instead of money.
Nevertheless, things began to change in 2018, when the country legalized casinos in the form of “integrated resorts”. In 2021, the newly-formed Japan Casino Regulatory Commission published regulations enforcing the Specified Integrated Resort Area Development Law, providing rules and criteria for establishing casinos.
Regardless of the law, however, Japanese citizens are extremely interested in betting on offshore platforms that are properly localized, and the government applies only minimal effort to stop them.
South Korea is subject to stringent regulations. Online gambling is outright banned, while land-based establishments are only open to foreign nationals, with the sole exception of Kangwon Land.
The legal framework regarding gambling is simple: unless it’s expressly permitted, it’s illegal. Aside from the aforementioned land-based casinos, the only forms of gambling allowed are the lottery and betting on horse racing and bullfighting — all are subject to monopoly.
Illegal gambling — and betting — is punishable with fines and prison sentences; websites targeting South Korean players get blacklisted, and their bank transactions are swiftly blocked.
For many years, gambling in Singapore was limited to the offer of publicly-owned operators — Singapore Pools for lottery-type games and the Singapore Turf Club for horse racing and sports betting.
As in many other countries in the region, private casinos were prohibited; however, this began to change in 2005. After a period of consideration, the government lifted the ban and allowed casinos to operate within integrated resorts, with an entry fee of SGD 150 introduced to discourage problem gambling. Currently, the number of licenses available is capped at two, and both are taken by Marina Bay Sands Casino and Resorts World Sentosa Casino, creating a duopoly. Locals have to pay a fee to enter these casinos.
Online gambling is prohibited, except for services provided by the aforementioned public operators, the National Heritage Board, and the Singapore Sports Council.
Penalties for both black market players and operators are harsh, with steep monetary fines (up to SGD 5,000 and SGD 500,000 respectively) and jail sentences (up to six months for players and seven years for operators) to boot. Furthermore, the Ministry of Home Affairs established in 2021 a Gambling Regulatory Authority to enforce stricter oversight on the industry, and harsher punishments are currently being discussed. However, players still use VPNs to access foreign platforms, an extremely common practice in Asian markets.
If you don’t know where to start, we have an idea: check out our interactive map and get an overview of the gambling regulations across the globe.
Vietnam has strict regulations, and for decades all forms of gambling were completely banned. The tide, however, seems to have turned in 2018, with the legalization of betting on football, horse racing, and greyhound racing and the opening of casinos reserved to holders of foreign passports.
Furthermore, the government launched a pilot project to allow locals in casinos, provided they earn a minimum of $445 per month, have no criminal record, and obtain the permission of their family.
As a predominantly Islamic country, Malaysia bans both land-based and online gambling. However, there is one licensed land based casino, and no clear regulation of online operations, which makes all the government’s attempts to block bank transactions and seize assets of people connected to gambling difficult.
Due to traditional or religious views, many countries in Asia view gambling in a negative light and don’t allow any games of chance to be played. Countries like Thailand, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Brunei, and Indonesia maintain such a blanket ban on gambling (though Thailand is considering a move towards regulation).
Other countries like East Timor, Bhutan, and Mongolia ban land-based activities, but have no regulations in place regarding online gambling.
While many countries don’t allow locals to play, people still can (and do) travel to gamble in the neighboring countries. That’s why most land-based casinos accept foreign players, and most online platforms localize their websites and offers for target markets.
The future of Asian gambling markets
The rising awareness of player protection measures and potential value of the industry in terms of state revenues caused a noticeable shift in attitudes in many countries, opening the door to legalization where only a decade prior it would have been out of the question.
As things stand, liberalization following an example of the western and Latin American countries, at least for now, is primarily limited to the land-based industry and focused on tourism.
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Slotegrator recommends you to invest time in localization of your platform. Once you know your audience it’s always better to provide it with all the important information and player support in its languages, offer preferred in the region games, and accept payment in all the expected currencies.
I have over 5 years of experience managing B2B and B2C sales departments in the online gambling industry. I started my career working in customer support for online casinos and grew to become the head of a department offering tailored services to VIP players. I joined Slotegrator with a strong focus on our company’s products and deep knowledge of what players need. My passion for the industry leads me to keep expanding my knowledge every day.