Is it illegal to gamble in Hong Kong? Understanding the law

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Hong Kong, similar to Macau, is a special administrative region of China. While Macau was a Portuguese colony, Hong Kong remained with the British for about a century. Both the cities are an hour away by road. But geographical proximity could not influence how these cities developed economically.

While Hong Kong evolved into a financial services powerhouse, Macau turned into a gambling and leisure hub of the world attracting millions of tourists each year.

Casinos do not legally exist in Hong Kong but considering the financial position of Hong Kong, several leading casinos have opened marketing offices to attract high profile visitors of Hong Kong to Macau.

The Gambling Ordinance (Cap. 148) is the primary enactment in Hong Kong concerning gambling. Section 3 of the Gaming Ordinance states that gambling is unlawful, except if such game is played on a social occasion in private premises and is not promoted or conducted by way of trade or business or for the private gain of any person otherwise than to the extent of a person’s winnings as a player of or at the game or a game of amusement with prizes; a game of tombola, etc. 

The Gambling Ordinance allows businesses to apply for licences to run trade promotion competitions but this sector has always been monopolised by the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) having been founded in 1884. 

It is a criminal offence to indulge in unlawful forms of gambling and lotteries including operating, managing or controlling a gambling establishment. SImilarly, the running of or participating in unlawful lotteries or bookmaking is an offence. Penalties for these offences may go upto a fine of HK$5 million and seven years imprisonment for operators. Those who participate in illegal gambling are subject to a maximum penalty of HK$30,000 and a prison term of up to nine months.

Further the money laundering laws of Hong Kong make it a criminal offence to deal with property knowing, or having reasonable grounds to believe, that the property is the proceeds of an ‘indictable offence’ including the proceeds from offences under the Gambling Ordinance. 

But strict laws have not prevented illegal gambling activities. According to HKJC, the illegal gambling market is sizeable, it is estimated that Hong Kong people lose HK$12 billion each year to illegal operators who use junkets to lure customers.