Gambling is now a 450 billion dollar industry worldwide. In the western world, exposure to it has become extremely normalised. It is very heavily advertised, to the point where it is virtually impossible to watch a football match without seeing betting companies emblazoned on player’s shirts or promoted during the advertising break, and it no high-street would be complete without at least one bookies. It is also more accessible than it has ever been, with a myriad of websites and apps enabling one to gamble with with just a few flicks on a touch-screen.

Gambling, in some form or other, has most likely been occurring since the dawn of time for humans, The first concrete evidence of organised gambling is from 2300bc in Ancient China, in which an archaeological dig unearthed tiles which were used in rudimentary games of chance[1]. And so what of modern China? Do people gamble their newfound disposable income in the world’s rising economic powerhouse?

The answer to the former question, is a resounding and unequivocal; “yes!”. It is estimated that the total spend for online gambling on the Chinese mainland is 145 billion dollars a year, which is a sizeable chunk of the total global spend and doesn’t even take into account other forms such as card games[2]. This happens despite the fact that most forms of gambling, excluding low-stakes games between friends and a state sponsored lottery[3], are illegal on the Chinese mainland. The law even attempts to preclude Chinese nationals from setting up casinos abroad. With such stringent laws in place, how do the Chinese manage to gamble such large sums?

Chinese gambling goes far beyond illegal casinos which spring up everywhere from high end Shanghai apartments to tents with plastic tables rigged up on mountainsides[4]. Many Chinese people will use VPNs and underground banking systems to sidestep the blocks the Chinese government has put in place, and hide their online activity in order to take advantage of the myriad of gambling opportunities the internet has to offer.

Several ancillary black-markets have sprung up in China to help facilitate people’s access to gambling.The internet has also allowed gambling to flourish through proxy betting. This is where players can place bets remotely using agents wearing headsets who are placed in locations where gambling is permitted, such as the Phillipines. This is thought to account for 40% of the $1 billion VIP betting market there[5].

Chinese also travel abroad to gamble.  Casinos have sprung up in many of the numerous countries close to China such as Kazakhstan, South Korea, The Phillipines, and Cambodia. This is not without its dangers, and has led to many gamblers getting into debts to loansharks that they cannot pay off. As a result of this 23 Chinese nationals were reportedly kidnapped in the Phillipines and held until their families could pay their ransoms, although the actual number of people kidnapped is thought to be much higher as not all victims are willing to report it to the police[6].

Gambling is also legal in the Chinese territory Macau, which is a small former Portugese colony on the Pearl River estuary, which is commonly referred to as the “Las Vegas of the East”, due to the large amount of  massive casinos built there. This name is slightly misleading, as its gambling revenue is 24 billion dollars a year[7], which supersedes the takings of Las Vegas by about seven times and caters to all different types of gambling, from traditional Chinese games such as Mah Jong to greyhound racing.

Gambling addiction exists all over the world, and China is no exception to the rule. The question whether or there are social and cultural factors which influence the Chinese to gamble more. The Chinese are a very superstitious culture in general, and studies have shown that this is especially present while gambling[8]. Some Chinese believe that factors such as wearing red, only using numbers three, six, and nine and avoiding the number four, and the feng shui of a room can influence wins. This latter belief is so strong that the MGM Grand was forced to change its entrance, as it forced gamblers to walk through the mouth of a lion, which is considered bad luck.

As can be seen across all the vice industries, it is demand rather than legality which determines the supply. As long as the demand is high enough, there will always be someone willing to break the law to reap the benefits of the greatly-inflated black-market price that criminalising something brings. And wherever gambling goes, addiction follows.

[1] accessed on 8/9/2019

[2] accessed on 8/9/2019

[3] accessed on 8/9/2019

[4] accessed on 8/9/2019

[5] accessed on 8/9/2019

[6] accessed on 8/9/2019

[7] Sheng, Mingjie; Gu, Chaolin (2018). “Economic growth and development in Macau (1999–2016): The role of the booming gaming industry”. Cities. 75: 72–80. doi:10.1016/j.cities.2018.01.003.