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On paper, the Asian market would appear to be one of the highest untapped online gambling markets currently in existence. It covers approximately 60% of the world’s population, boasts highly educated people with easy access to the latest technology and in many cases an impressive amount of disposable income. However, due to religious and political regions, many Asian countries hold a negative view of gambling in any form, only allowing it at land-based venues to make more money off their foreign visitors. To gain a better understanding of the specific views of major regions, what they currently allow and what developments are in the pipeline we discuss Asia under three headings: Asia’s Shining Stars: regions where gambling is thriving Diamonds in the Rough: regions most likely to allow online gambling Here Be Dragons: regions where all gambling is banned These heading refer to the region’s stance on gambling, whether they are open to online gambling or not will be discussed as part of its review. Asia’s Shining Stars While gambling faces opposition across most of Asia there are two regions where the pastime is welcome with open arms, Macau, and the Philippines. ✓Macau Macau (also correctly spelt Macao) is the hub of Asian gambling, often being referred to as the Las Vegas of East. Though while Las Vegas might have Macau beat when it comes to landmass the former Portuguese colony has been known to generate three times the revenue of Vegas, reaching nearly $30 billion in 2019. In addition to being a global tourist destination, Macau also serves as China’s gambling outlet. While gambling in China is strictly forbidden its citizens may travel to Macau to gamble without fear of reprisal. While gambling in Macau is open to all who land there the one area where there is still some resistance to online gambling. Much of this resistance is thought to be since so many Chinese business people gamble in Macau and the Chinese government concerns about controlling what its citizens do online. ✓Philippines When it comes to noteworthy eCommerce markets the Philippines is unlikely to make your top list however market research proves that this is an up and coming online sales hot spot. A recent market forecast report by Statista shows that online sales in the Philippines should surpass the $5 billion mark by the end of 2021. This sizeable investment in online retail is not purely from a small segment of big spenders. GlobalWebIndex reported that of the 110 million people living in the Philippines more than 69 million are regular internet users with 75% of those aged between 16 and 64 already active online shoppers. This bodes well for the potential of online gambling when one considers that not only does the Philippines have a well-regulated gambling economy, but it allows offshore casino operators to offer Online Slots and other casino games to Filipino players. There is some confusion regarding holding a Filipino license since two options are on offer. The country’s two gambling boards, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), each offer their own license. However, neither license allows the licensee to offer casino games within the border of the country. In an ideal world, PAGCOR and CEZA can create a joint license agreement that allows the operation of an online casino within the Philippines that can also target Filipino players. For now, offshore casinos are free to reap the benefits of the Filipino love of online shopping and entertainment. Diamonds In The Rough These Asian gambling jurisdictions may offer casino games but only under heavily restricted circumstances. While they are not free gambling markets with their proverbial “toe in the water” they are best positioned to pivot to an open-license system. ✓Hong Kong As with Macau, Hong Kong is seen as an administrative region of China. This means that while the region is afforded some level of autonomy China feels empowered to step in and change or amend laws as they see fit. This has led to Hong Kong having a thriving local gambling market where players over the age of 18 can gamble at any of the country’s approved venues. All land-based betting in Hong Kong falls under the monopoly of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. To enjoy a night playing blackjack, roulette or even the slots one will have to board a dedicated gambling cruise ship which then goes out beyond the island’s legal territory before any casino gambling can take place. Online gambling is once again heavily restricted due to China’s influence over Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong is currently undergoing a resurgence in the call for its independence from China. Should they succeed, this could see the online casino market become a key player in their financial growth. ✓India India is one of those territories that holds a lot of potential for offshore casino operators despite gambling being illegal in the country. The reason for this is their lack of clarity in formulating their laws. India’s Public Gambling Act (1867) and Prize Competition Act (1955) in no way address online gambling due to the era in which they were composed. Despite this, they are still the applicable gambling laws in the country. The government did write the Information Technology Act of 2000 into law however this fails to define either gambling or online gambling and does not specifically address whether games of chance or games of skill are legal or illegal. With a growing middle class, large scale internet penetration (specifically amongst mobile users) and a population of 1.3 billion adults (over 18 years of age) India is one of the hottest online gambling markets in the world. ✓Japan Historically gambling in Japan has been frowned upon as it was seen as a wasteful way to risk hard-earned money or property. However, in 2018 the government approved a change in the local laws which would allow for the development of three integrated casino resorts (IR). The recent plans to break ground on the first IR in Yokohama later this year came to a grinding halt when anti-casino mayoral candidate Takeharu Yamanaka won the election. However, there are still four other cities, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Osaka, and Wakayama, which are open to being the first casino resort in Japan. While it is early days for casino gambling in Japan the legalisation of a once-banned activity is a massive step in the right direction. And with casino operators such as Melco Resorts and Entertainment, Sega Sammy Holdings Inc, Shotoku Corp, and Genting, Singapore Ltd pushing the development ahead we are hopeful for the inclusion of an online casino app in their roadmap. ✓Vietnam Following Japan’s lead 2018 also saw Vietnam unexpectedly legalise betting on greyhound and horse races, begin accepting bets on soccer matches and open several land-based casinos to serve foreign visitors. The country is also currently testing the viability of allowing locals to gamble in these casinos given that they meet certain criteria such as a minimum income threshold. Given the country’s history of severely restricting gambling and punishing those who contravene its laws, this is a major breakthrough for the industry in Vietnam. While there is no specific intention to address online gambling in the immediate future, we are hopeful that the local gambling authority will view online and mobile casinos as a natural technological extension of its land-based casino development. Here Be Dragons There are several Asian territories where online gambling in any form is simply not looking to make any headway. These regions include: China Taiwan South Korea Malaysia These bastions of human rights and freedom are known to take punitive measures against citizens who gamble either online or offline, including prison time, heavy fines and even blacklisting at local financial institutions. Cryptocurrency and Gambling in Asia One of the game-changing new technologies for online gambling in restrictive Asian markets has the development and adoption of cryptocurrencies. When it comes to gambling with Bitcoin these casino fans finally have a way to get around the local government policies that block their ability to make deposits or request withdrawals when playing online. However, it is not only the those looking to circumvent local gambling regulation who are looking to Bitcoin and its peers. Asian markets that offer legal online gambling are considering the adoption of cryptocurrencies to reduce costs, offer safer and more secure gambling transactions and appeal to foreign gamblers once they leave the country and head home. It is expected that markets like the Philippines who have such an active eCommerce market could lead the way in gambling with crypto as local users begin to adopt altcoins and stable coins for daily online purchases. Where To From Here? While the road to a fully licensed and regulated Asian gambling market is a long and bumpy one there are some amazing developments with once hard locked regions opening their doors to casinos – even if only for foreign passport holders. Yet as these regions become comfortable with the idea of gambling, can prove that it does not undermine the fabric of their culture, and begins to add to the government’s coffers, there is hope for adoption to speed up. The more Asian countries become pro-gambling, the more opportunities it presents for online gambling to take hold and flourish.
As lifelong fans of gambling and in particular online gambling it is fantastic to see how many countries are adopting a positive stance towards the hobby. Even if a region does not currently allow local licensing and advertising opportunities, they tend to adopt a ‘no harm, no foul’ approach which allows players to gamble at offshore casinos without any legislative requirements. In a 2021 review of the legal online gambling landscape Slotegrator reported that gambling regulation falls into one of four distinct categories: Those where gambling websites must be licensed by the local regulator (32 countries) Those where only local gaming sites need a license, not foreign sites (32 Countries) Those where online gambling is prohibited, but no legal action is taken against play at foreign sites (28 countries) Those where there are no gambling restrictions at all (93 countries) When looking at the European Union in the context of these categories is becomes clear that the majority of the member states have adopted or are investigating a multi-license regime. ✓EU Free Trade Supports Gambling Regulation For those who are unfamiliar with how the European Union works simply put it is an agreement between 27 member countries that make up most of continental Europe that aim to promote economic and political unity. As a response to the devastating impact of World War 2 on Europe, the European Economic Community (EEC) was created in 1958 to foster financial dependencies. The logic being that when countries are reliant on one another for trade the likelihood of aggression declines. According to a report by the EU Commission in 2021 “82% of products traded in the Single Market are subject to harmonised rules and some 18% of intra-EU trade in goods fall under mutual recognition”. Given that the EU free trade agreement is such a pivotal part of the makeup and longevity of the Union, online gambling became a hotly debated topic as the UK, who was still a member of the EU at the time, promoted full regulation and licensing and expected to be able to trade with its partners. Jurisdictional legislators such as Malta became highly respected markets who expected EU member states to recognise the validity of an MGA licensed casino to trade within the Union. Members that stood against regulated online gambling were seen to be contradicting the compact, and this early friction ultimately led to a burgeoning European online gambling industry. ✓EGBA Striving for Standardised Regulation As with any other multi-party endeavour one of the challenges members of the EU have had to face is how their differing definitions, requirements and even fee structures have become stumbling blocks for their peers. To assist in creating a unified logic to regulation and a set of standards the Brussels-based European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) was founded. “EGBA works together with national and EU regulatory authorities and other stakeholders towards a well-regulated and well-channelled online gambling market which provides a high level of consumer protection and takes into account the realities of the internet and online consumer demand.” To achieve a sustainable online gambling regime the EGBA strives to: Achieve a well-regulated and competitive market Define an ambitious set of European industry standards Build an integrity-based betting market Address betting-related match-fixing and corruption In addition to creating forums for discourse and staying on top of the day-to-day minutiae associated with tracking the gambling rulings and legislative decision making of 27 member countries the EGBA is also a founding partner of the EU Athletes program, a member of the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) and registered with the EU Transparency register since 2009. A July 2021 decision by the EU Commission to not reinstate the Expert Group on Online Gambling to assist regulators in coordinating their legal efforts could see the EGBA having an even more authoritative voice as it fills the role that the Commission renounced. ✓The French Gambling Legislation Interestingly enough when looking at online gambling regulation it is important not to interchange online gambling and online casino, especially if you are looking to play Online Slots in France. While many gambling sites will say that online casino is legal in France, they are in fact incorrect, however, it is correct to say that online gambling is legal in the country. This is because in 2010 France had a massive overhaul of its gambling law which both created the current body known as the Autorité Nationale des Jeux (ANJ) and legalised all forms of land-based gambling including casino games, card games, and sports betting. However, in an unexpected turn of events when addressing online gambling the regulation only made allowance for the licensing of online poker and online sports betting, while online games of chance remained a restricted category. ✓An Avid Gambling Community Despite the exclusion of online slots and other casino games, online gambling has flourished in France with La Française des Jeux (FDJ) being responsible for betting and lottery games, while Pari Mutuel Urbain (PMU) is specifically responsible for horse racing. The Q2 2021 report by BusinessWire on the financial results of the FDJ reported that the “digitalised and online stakes” showed an impressive 70% growth over its Q1 results reaching €1.1 billion in revenue from stakes of €9.2 billion. Stéphane Pallez, Chairwoman and CEO of FDJ, said: “Our stakes are increasing, both online and in our point-of-sale network. Over the half-year, we accordingly recorded an increase of nearly 9% in revenue compared with the same period in 2019. Barring new restrictions in response to developments in the health situation, the Group expects to maintain good momentum in the second half and is confident in its business and results prospects in accordance with its responsible gaming model.” These reports show that the FDJ’s online performance is tracking perfectly for the body to achieve its target of €2.2 billion for the year. Market analysts expect this to come from just over €19 billion in stakes. However, the growth in both player stakes and overall revenue for France’s online gambling market has raised the question of whether their reasoning for excluding online gambling was genuine. When the regulations were announced in 2010 ARJEL argued that games of chance held too high a risk of gambling addiction. That games like slot machines encouraged high engagement and participation, something they then claimed to be looking to actively discourage. However, with the €9.2 billion in stakes over six months it proves French gamblers are an engaged and active community. Despite numerous calls in recent years for other EU member states to open their borders to regulated online gambling, to protect locals and actively participate in the free trade compact France has silently refused to budge on the issue, deflecting the conversation around casino games to a discussion of regulated online gambling instead. In a decision that further confuses the matter, France declared that its citizens may gamble at international offshore casinos. Yet this puts them at risk of playing with casinos who do not adhere to EU safer gambling standards, reduces channelisation by not offering a casino game option for slots players, and driving revenues offshore which could be funnelled into programs that would uplift the French community such education programs and compulsive disorder treatment centres. ✓The Bitcoin Casino Stumbling Block France is one of the most progressive nations in the world and as such has been at the forefront of cryptocurrency adoption. The French are proud HODLERs with nearly 4% of the population owning Bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital tokens. Unsurprisingly the lion’s share of this ownership sits with wealthy, tech-savvy men and women in their late mid-twenties to mid-thirties. It should come as no surprise then that in the absence of regulation making online casino gambling illegal a large portion of the French casino market is turning to bitcoin casinos. Not only do they get to engage in leading online slots and tables games, but they stand the chance to withdraw even more of the valuable cryptocurrency in the process. However, July 13th saw a Parisian court rule that French ISPs had to block local users from accessing two cryptocurrency gambling sites. The ruling came of the back of a decision to hand over cryptocurrency regulations to Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF), a securities watchdog with a specific brief to manage digital currency exchanges in the region. In this case while the casino games themselves were not the issue the ability to buy and sell cryptocurrencies in an unregulated marketplace saw the AMF flex its muscle and once again limit French players access to online casino entertainment. Once again, sane minds argue that if France would extend its current online gambling legislation to include online casino games, they could offer local players access to a secure crypto-exchange and secure a valuable revenue resource in the process.