Could Macau Be Set to Legalise Online Gambling?

Macau FlagThe head of the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ) has sensationally claimed that the Chinese government is considering legalising gambling in the casino hotspot Macau.

Adriana Ho said the government was carrying out its own investigations into the possibility of removing restrictions on online gaming, but also confirmed that the green light would not be given until concerns about potential money laundering are dealt with.

The idea of legalising online gambling comes at a time when land-based casinos in the Chinese republic have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the past six months of trading seeing a 90% decrease on the same period in 2019.

Ho confirmed to Jose Pereira Coutinho, a legislator querying opportunities in the gaming industry during the pandemic, that online changes were being considered in order to raise tax revenue while restrictions remain in place on physical casino betting. Coutinho claimed back in September that internet gambling should be legalised in Macau to ‘increase revenue from gaming tax and to further develop gaming industries.’

In the Philippines, a country that has attracted the ire of China due to its relaxed position on online gambling, approval has been given by ministers to casinos to take online bets from individuals who can prove they live in the country, and there may be a temptation for the Chinese government to temporarily accept similar wagers from high rollers in the country who might otherwise be tempted overseas.

Ho has confirmed that ‘careful’ studies are still ongoing, with proposals from legislators and other stakeholders being considered by the DICJ.

Will Macau Target the American Market?

Global Business Hologram

While it’s unlikely that the Chinese government will allow operators to target domestic nationals, it is possible that they might try to increase revenue by promoting online gaming to overseas players.

North America could be one market that is targeted, and Macau officials will have noted with interest a court case back in 2007 that delivered a surprising but potentially huge decision for the future of the industry.

Antigua, the Caribbean island, won a court case against the United States after Washington had unlawfully blocked gambling firms based there from operating in the American market, despite the fact wagering on horse racing is allowed.

Antigua and Barbuda were ordered to be paid more than $21 million between them in compensation – not quite as much as the $3.4 billion they had been claiming for however.

Beyond the financial outcome, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – who oversaw the legal proceedings – also opened something of a can of worms in their decision. Antigua can, in essence, violate the intellectual property laws of the United States, and perhaps more importantly for the island with a burgeoning online gambling industry they can also welcome players from the US.

Online casino gaming is the second most valuable industry to Antigua behind tourism, and given the current travel restrictions around the world gambling will take on even more importance.

This case feels like a test for similar disputes, with Antigua paving the way for other countries to sue the United States where unfair trading practices have been implemented – and that would surely open the door to all manner of online tomfoolery.

Throughout the legal action, the U.S. had done their upmost to claim that they never intended for free, cross border gambling to be allowed – even if betting in some form is now allowed in 48 American states.

The topic of gambling has been a thorny subject for the United States, who wanted it removed from the jurisdiction of the WTO. Deals with Canada, Japan and the European Union were struck to pave the way for exactly that, but many other nations are yet to sign off on America’s ambition.

Could that open the door for Macau to target potential online players in the U.S?