Updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed, Aug 18, 2021

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How Chinese and American Gambling Laws Compare

It's no secret that China and America are two of the most contrasting countries on the planet. Yet, when it comes to their stance on gambling and gambling regulation they are surprisingly similar in many ways. For instance, even though gambling is a very popular pastime in both countries, it's far from being legalised and regulated on a national scale in either, and is only allowed in a handful of 'gambling-friendly' cities and/or territories.

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Gambling in the United States

Despite being founded on the back of freedom and democracy, the United States is a nation that until this day tightly controls most forms of gambling. Consider for instance that the US has only three main gambling centres or cities - Las Vegas (Nevada), Reno (Nevada) and Atlantic City (New Jersey). So American gamblers seeking the biggest and best casino resorts and gambling action must to trek to one of these cities to find them.

Or, if they're too expensive or far away to access, there are other options. The 1990s saw the emergence of legally protected Native American casinos and the legalisation of riverboat casinos in the United States. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, agreements could be made between the State and the respective tribal government to use Native American Trust Land for gambling purposes.

There are 510 Native American Gambling Operations

Today the Native American gambling industry consists of approximately 510 gambling operations in 29 of America's 50 states. These are owned and operated by 245 of the country's 566 federally-recognised Native American tribes. The majority of Native American casinos are concentrated in just 10 states - Oklahoma (139), California (76), Minnesota (41), Washington (34), Arizona (28), Wisconsin (27), Michigan (25), New Mexico (24), New York (16) and Montana (14). Native American gambling is overseen by the National Indian Gaming Commission which was set up in 1988 when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed.

Riverboat casinos were originally required by law to leave their docks so as not to be in contact with American soil. Those laws have since become more relaxed and many riverboat casinos now operate while docked and in some cases on land, albeit close to a river as the law dictates. Most riverboat casinos are located in America's Southern and Midwestern states including Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Mississippi.

Land casinos aside, other popular types of gambling legalised in some American states include lotteries, sports betting (bookmaking), card rooms, advance-deposit wagering, charitable games, pari-mutuel wagering and bingo. However, what types of gambling are permitted and to what degree is up to the lawmakers in the respective states.

Gambling is Banned in Utah and Hawaii

Some states like Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware and Louisiana, for instance, have a far more liberalised approach to gambling than others. Interestingly, Nevada and Louisiana are the only two states in America that allow casino gambling state-wide as opposed to solely in selected cities or geo-specific areas as is the case with New Jersey. Even states that are against the regulation of most types of gambling have a state lottery. The only two states in America that have banned all forms of gambling are Utah and Hawaii.

But as much power as the individual states have, the US federal government can still dictate the nation's stance on particular forms of gambling, like online gambling for instance. Remote or internet-based gambling has been a contentious issue in the US since the birth of the first online casinos in the mid-1990s. This is because by the year 2000 the global online gambling industry was worth an estimated $2.2 billion per year, almost 70% of that generated by players in the United States alone.

By 2005 the industry had grown exponentially and more gamblers than ever in America and beyond were playing real money casino, poker and bingo games over the internet, as well as betting on sports. However, in a move to curb the loss of billions of US dollars each year to offshore gambling sites (and protect its domestic land casino industry), the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed by the US Congress in October 2006, and signed into law by President George W. Bush shortly thereafter.

UIGEA Prohibited Online Gambling in the US

Although not designed to punish American gamblers that sign up with online gambling sites, UIGEA "prohibits gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law."

The consequences of the passing of UIGEA were almost instant. Fearing prosecution from US authorities for processing online gambling related payments, many of the world's biggest and most successful offshore online gambling firms withdrew from the US market, creating an 'online gambling vacuum' that still largely exists today.

Although some online casinos and other gambling sites accept players from the US like those featured on, funding their accounts can be a challenge for American players since they cannot use regular payment methods like credits cards, bank wires or bank transfers. At a federal level it does not appear that online gambling has a chance. But a recent change in sports betting laws and the regulation of online casinos in a few states show that things are changing. Soon everyone will be able to claim no deposit bonuses without fear of persecution. Golden Nugget were one of the first regulated casinos in the USA.

(Photo : golden nugget) gambling games to players

 Golden Nugget offers hundreds of games to players from New Jersey.

Gambling in China 

While gambling was introduced to America by the first settlers in the early 17th Century, gambling is thought to have been a large part of the Chinese culture since around 1700 B.C. during the Shang Dynasty, if not before. Ancient Chinese games like Liubo, Gu Pa and Shi Pai are thought to be the forerunners for more modern but still centuries old and still played games like Mahjong, Pai Gow, Fan Tan and the lottery.

In fact, gambling became so prevalent in China so quickly that just a few centuries later it was reportedly outlawed during the Wei Dynasty, albeit with little success. Even though punishments like beatings and title demotions were regularly handed out to people caught gambling, no laws or acts of violence could curb the insatiable appetite the Chinese had for gambling.

Traditional domino or tile-style games eventually evolved to other popular wagering pursuits like dog racing and even cock fighting. Fast forward many centuries to the mid-1800s where for the next 60 years or so Shanghai became a 'gambling Mecca' for gamblers from across China and beyond.

Macau Became a Major Asian Gambling Hub

Not only were Chinese gambling games highly revered, but also many western games including roulette. During the same period gambling was legalised in Macua, which was them a colony of Portugal. Initially leased to Portugal by China in 1557 as a trading post, in 1887 Portugal was granted 'perpetual occupation rights' of Macau.

During its time as a Portuguese territory, gambling dens popped up like mushrooms to make Macau the 'go to' gambling destination in Asia. This continued to be the case up until Portugal handed Nacau back to China in 1999, and continues to be the case today as a 'special administrative region of China.' This means that despite again being under Chinese rule, Macau has a separate economic and political infrastructure.

Similarly, Hong Kong is another Chinese territory that saw the legalisation of gambling under the guardianship of a foreign power. At the end of the First Opium War in 1842, Hong Kong was ceded to Great Britain, where it evolved from a predominantly farming and fishing region into one of the world's busiest ports and financial hubs.

In 1977 in an attempt to curb illegal gambling, gambling was legalised and regulated in the city under a piece of legislation known as the Gambling Ordinance. This allowed people to gamble at a controlled number of licensed gambling casinos and outlets. Most legal betting in Hong Kong takes place on horse racing organised by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Gambling in Mainland China is Illegal as of 2018

In 1997 after 156 years Great Britain handed Hong Kong back to China. And like Macua, China has largely left Hong Kong to its own economic and political devices. That said China's influence is being increasingly felt in Hong Kong.

While Macau and Hong Kong continue to be huge gambling hubs in China and Asia as a whole, as of 2018 gambling in mainland China is still very much illegal with the exception of its two state lotteries - the China Welfare Lottery and the China Sports Lottery. These lotteries are only allowed to operate because the Chinese government doesn't classify lotteries as gambling.

Sadly, despite its gambling ban, illegal gambling is rife in China today. For instance, it's estimated that over a trillian yuan is bet illegally every year in China. And like the United States, China has a predominantly anti-online gambling stance. However, this has not stopped resourceful Chinese gamblers from finding ways to gamble online, despite the fact that the internet is highly censored in China.

Not only does the Chinese government actively block and/or censor certain websites (Google included) and content, but it also monitors the Internet habits of individual citizens.


As can be surmised from the above, America and China are not all that different when it comes to their gambling laws and regulations. Even though the US may seem to have the legal advantage, millions of Chinese every days wager on casino games and others, even if illegally.

And when it comes to online gambling, both nations are streets behind nations like the United Kingdom. This tiny island nation has a 100% liberalised online gambling industry for the safety of players and operators alike, and to generate hundreds of millions of pound in remote gambling taxes each year.

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