A number of Southeast Asian countries are moving to limit or ban online gambling within their borders amid pressure from China.

Beijing claims gambling firms in the Philippines and elsewhere are encouraging Chinese nationals to gamble offshore and circumvent China’s strict gambling laws, and have called on neighbouring countries to work together to tackle the issue.

Macau is the only place in China where casinos are legal, and this has meant Chinese nationals have to look abroad to place bets or play at online casinos. This has resulted in an explosion in the online gaming industries in neighbouring countries, with operators specifically targeting Chinese customers with live video streams of sporting events and minimum bets as low as 10 yuan (£1.15), and the illegal outflow of millions of yuan.

The growth of online gaming has been lucrative for many countries in the region, but under increasing pressure from Beijing a number of governments have made moves to limit further growth or even ban online gambling outright.

Earlier this month, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that his country would no longer issue and new licenses for online gambling operations and existing licenses would not be renewed upon expiry, essentially banning the practice under the guise of upholding social security and public order.

The Philippines, which has recently been the focus of particular criticism from China, has also agreed to stop accepting applications for any new online gambling services until the end of the year. However, gaming agency chair Andrea Domingo stressed that the online gambling remains legal in the country, with the industry worth over £150m per year.

Nonetheless, in a news conference earlier this week, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang welcomed the move by Manila, saying: “We hope the Philippines will go further and ban all online gambling…We hope it will further strengthen law enforcement with China and jointly tackle criminal activities including online gambling and cyber fraud.”

He continued: “Online gambling is a most dangerous tumour in modern society detested by people all across the world…It is a shared hope that this problem could be effectively dealt with.”

China’s ongoing campaign against online gambling is in stark contrast to the US, which has recently changed tack and begun a process of legalising and regulating the industry. Washington hopes that by bringing gambling into the mainstream economy, the industry can boost GDP and generate increased tax revenues, following the example of the United Kingdom casino and betting industry that has grown rapidly since deregulation in 2005 to generate annual profits of £2.3bn.


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