While Singapore is taking measures to block illegal betting sites, authorities in Hong Kong say their current legislation is strict enough.
As a special administrative region that’s still part of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong is against most forms of gambling. Officially, the law imposes a number of restrictions. Local players are allowed to bet on sports in Hong Kong, that is if they’re happy with limiting their options to horse racing, but internet casinos and online sportsbooks are out of the question.
That being said, studies suggest that more than 80% of adults gamble, which makes Hong Kong one of the most passionate gambling nations in the world. It also indicates that there’s a lot of illegal betting going on, and most of it is done via websites.
Hong Kong gambling laws
Online sportsbooks in Hong Kong:
Just like in mainland China, online casinos and internet betting are forbidden by Hong Kong gambling laws. However, since authorities have never done much about websites hosted in other countries, players aren’t very motivated to resist the temptation to access them. Whether we’re talking about licensed or illegal ones, online casinos are very popular in the country.
There are a number of gambling sites out there that welcome players from Hong Kong and are very happy to take their money, often without offering much in exchange. The only thing that’s hard to figure out is how to transfer money without being detected by authorities. Many virtual deposit methods are blocked, but companies always manage to find ways to get around the law.
All in all, gambling is a very popular hobby throughout Hong Kong. The market has been regulated since 1977, but the number one legal activity – betting on horse races – is the one inherited from the British era. Meanwhile, gamblers can also play a few casino games on some cruise ships, but these are mostly restricted to Macau.
What about illegal gambling?
Seeing how the Internet has opened new doors for illegal gambling, some countries decided to take measures against it. Draft legislation giving Singaporean authorities permission to limit players’ access to unlicensed betting sites was introduced earlier this month. Officials are struggling to bring down the multibillion-dollar online gambling business, as it was suggested that these operations could be connected to organized crime. Not Hong Kong though.
Authorities in Macau are also coming down hard on illegal gambling, slowly discovering all sorts of illicit activities that have spread throughout Asia, not just in the world’s largest gambling hub. Hong Kong didn’t think it was necessary to take any extra measures though.
It is estimated that online betting sites in Asia make hundreds of billions of US dollars every year, all this without being licensed or paying any taxes to the states where they offer their services. According to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, local players lose HK$12 billion a year through virtual wagering services.
Under these circumstances, the club’s director of security and integrity, Martin Purbrick, suspects the business could be a key component in the “international expansion and legitimization of organized crime”.
Online gambling and freedom of information
Amid a global drive to crack down on match fixing, some countries choose to block unlicensed websites, but the Hong Kong gambling regulator has a surprisingly different view on the issue. A spokesperson for the Home Affairs Bureau, which is responsible for the region’s gaming laws, said sufficient legislation was in place to protect local players.
“Respecting freedom to access information, we do not block one’s internet access,” he said. “We have adopted a multipronged strategy which includes regulation, law enforcement, public education and provision of counselling and treatment services.”
Wagering on illegal online gaming sites is highly popular among Hong Kong players, mostly because of the high margins offered by these tax-evading websites. According to the Jockey Club, the city’s sole legal internet betting platform, estimated that illegal wagering on soccer alone had a turnover of HK$500 billion in 2013.
In the first six months of this year, the police in Hong Kong arrested 192 people suspected of being involved in illegal bookmaking operations. After an investigation into soccer match fixing in the city ended up in more people being arrested, the Hong Kong Football Association hired fraud monitoring consultancy Sportradar to track games.
For now, the future of internet betting in Hong Kong remains undecided. Other countries are taking drastic measures to eradicate illegal betting, but local authorities don’t seem to find it necessary, claiming that it’s more important to allow players free access to websites.