Saturday, May 25, 2024

Analysis: Is it illegal for Chinese nationals to gamble overseas, and how might China’s warning hurt regional casinos?

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SINGAPORE: The cards are stacked against China in deterring its citizens from gambling abroad even as fresh pressure is exerted through regional warnings, primarily because there is no clear legislation punishing Chinese nationals for placing bets overseas, legal experts say.

The notice by three Chinese embassies in Asia that embassies and consulates may not be able to provide consular protection for violations is also problematic, as it goes against regulations which recently came into force, according to a legal academic CNA spoke to.

“This threat to withhold consular protection is probably a violation of Chinese law itself,” said Chinese law professor Bing Ling at the University of Sydney.

But the warning will likely still be a general deterrent in the near term as Chinese punters look to lie low amid heightened scrutiny, analysts believe. The drawing of attention towards a years-old online government platform for Chinese nationals to report their compatriots for gambling by passing on clues and suspected activity could also spook gamblers.

Chinese nationals staying off the gambling floors could potentially have a material impact on casinos in the region, industry watchers told CNA.

“Put it this way – (Chinese nationals) are the single biggest market segment for most casinos in Asia. It constitutes a very large proportion of their gaming revenue, particularly their VIP gaming revenue,” said Mr Ben Lee, managing partner of Macao-based casino consultancy IGamiX.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

The issue gained international attention on Monday (Mar 18) following statements issued by the Chinese embassy in Singapore, reminding Chinese nationals to stay away from gambling in the Republic. Singapore is home to two casinos.

The embassy asserted that gambling overseas violates Chinese laws. “Even if overseas casinos are legally opened, cross-border gambling by Chinese citizens is suspected of violating the laws of our country”, the embassy added. Before this, similar statements were issued by the Chinese embassies in Sri Lanka and South Korea.

CNA has contacted the Chinese embassy in Singapore asking why it issued the warning, how it tracks Chinese citizens who gamble in Singapore and what action can be taken against them, but has not received a response.

“The embassy’s post misstates the effect of Chinese law,” said Prof Ling. He pointed out that while gambling has been outlawed in mainland China for decades now, no rule in Chinese law explicitly forbids gambling in a foreign country.

In 2021, China amended its criminal code to take aim at cross-border punting amid a wider crackdown on illegal and online gambling as cases crept up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The revised legislation stipulates punishment “where citizens of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) are organised to participate in overseas gambling with huge amounts or other serious circumstances”.

Also maintained – penalties for those who, for the purpose of profit, gather people to gamble, or gamble for a living. Anyone who opens a casino will also be punished.

“The criminal law amendment only punishes the organisation of gambling in a foreign country. It doesn’t apply to an individual tourist doing gambling for their own entertainment.” Prof Ling told CNA.

“There may also be rules forbidding civil servants or (Chinese Communist) Party members from gambling overseas … but as far as ordinary citizens are concerned, (gambling abroad) is not a crime under Chinese law.”

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