It is estimated that 14-23 million people gamble online worldwide. Of these, nearly half are from the Asia-Pacific region (49%) – and this despite the fact that online gambling has been severely restricted or even banned in certain Asian countries, such as Korea, China and Japan.
The irony is that gambling in Asia is nothing new and can be traced back to around 3000 BC with a game known as “wei-qi” and it’s also generally acknowledged that baccarat (or “baak ga lok” in Cantonese) originated in China. In fact, the fascination with gambling in Asia could arguably be said to stem from the Chinese, which is why it is peculiar that gambling in modern-day China is banned – with a few key exceptions such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau.
Everyone is predicting a rise in online gambling in Asia. This is due to a number of factors, including increased accessibility to the internet, the illegality of land-based gambling in Asian countries, which makes online gambling the only alternative; the historical popularity of gambling in Asian culture, and the huge influx of investment (particularly in China) in online gaming and the growth of companies such as M88 Vietnam and Sbobet.. However, if the Singapore government’s actions are anything to go by (it wants to restrict online gambling by blocking offshore gambling websites, blocking payments to and from gambling operators as well as banning any gambling related advertisements), then opening up this huge market is far from a done deal. That said, being forced underground has done little to dampen the appetite for gambling in Asia, and several unauthorised sites have sprung up, as well as clever operators who fudge the illegal practice by circumnavigating red tape.
Interestingly, Japan, who have long banned any form of gambling either land-based or online, have entered talks with casino operators – presumably to review their current position on gambling. There are massive pressures for governments in Asia to concede to public demand for online gambling, and it does seem inevitable that in time, this will happen.
What hurdles have yet to be overcome? Well, for a start, because of the illegal nature of gambling in many countries – advertising will be challenging, if not completely impossible. There is also the issue with federal restrictions on monetary transactions in and out of certain countries, which will pose a serious problem. But if the rise of Macau as a gambling destination is any indication of the future of the Asian market – public demand for online gambling is likely to win this particular battle.