Gambling Guide to Hong Kong

GambleScope Research Team

Housing about 167 Islands, flagged by territorial waters, beautiful scenery, and with general development towards investment opportunities and seemingly not restricted to a particular source of income revenue, it is little wonder that Hong Kong is one of the most visited and developing countries in the world. 

Hong Kong, bordering on the principle of the “one country and two systems” of governance like its other Special Administrative Region (SAR) counterpart, Macau, has been a hub of many profitable business decisions and Industries. Hong Kong already made its place as one of the leading trading centres in the world and as China’s dominant distributor.

Though the gambling industry in Hong Kong is shadowed by the “gambling capital of the world”, Macau, due to its restrictive laws on gambling, the country has still been able to hold its own in the sea of many countries with its growing markets.

Legal Status of Gambling in Hong Kong

Following the hand-over of autonomous Hong Kong to the Chinese after around 156 years of control by the British colonial masters, the government’s take on gambling was a restriction of almost all forms of gambling.

Coming under the control of the British when China was forced to concede after the Opium war in the 19th century, Hong Kong became the hub of horse racing and betting which is unsurprising because the English always gave the impression that they loved horses.

While horse racing was merely a sport loved by most people back then, there were no accounts of betting on the racecourse till 1867 when the Hong Kong governor was granted authority to legalise gambling bids and taxation in public. Hence, gambling (which was not just restricted to racecourse betting) became legal in 1867 but was retracted in 1871 due to complaints by the society on the negative impacts of gambling on the people in general. At the time, gambling addictions had led to problem gambling, and crime became the general way of life.

Of course as with most regulations flouted, at the time the restrictions came in, many were already neck deep into gambling to stop or curb their vices and as a result, to accommodate the dictations of the authorities and the change in governance, gambling gradually graduated and begun to conform to various channels of betting. As such, though wild betting abated, more westernised forms cropped up and progressively blossomed.

While horse racing was a form of entertainment, the government must have thought “Oh why not make horse racing another source of revenue?” For in 1884, the first establishment for horse race bets was the Hong Kong Jockey Club, hence, racecourse betting was established.

With horseracing betting firmly established, Hong Kong had blossomed under the revenues raked in by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and became not just a sport or entertainment hub but a truce of all sorts for warring cities.

Now, while horse racing was a particular favourite amongst all (it is simply a fascinating sight with all the adrenaline rush accompanying each game), the Chinese game of Mahjong was another fans favourite. While it had been a gambling activity with numerous gaming houses running this game, its services declined upon the enactment of the regulations and prohibition of all gambling activities in Hong Kong.

However, since the horse racing activities had seemingly bred success and all forms of misconducts associated with gambling in the past had been reduced, the government loosened the reins on the regulations. In 1956, the government issued “Mahjong School” licenses to the gaming houses which up to now remains a legal form of gambling in Hong Kong, albeit, not remarkably thriving.

Until the control of Hong Kong was relinquished to China in 1997, various forms of gambling were paired into illegal and legal forms under the Gambling Ordinance enacted in 1977 by the British authorities, and till date, this Ordinance still holds. Unlike the law in Macau, the Gambling Ordinanceis a law on its own and not just fragments of different laws put together which means that some offences are punishable under the Gambling Ordinance and could still be liable under another law.

While the age-old horse racing and horse tickets, as well as Mahjong, made it into the list of legitimate gambling forms in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Mark Six Lottery also made an impact after its integration in 1975.

It would seem that Hong Kong is quite particular about the welfare of the citizens and is seemingly more affectionate with charity deeds as well as social fraternising and entertainment. As ascertained by the legal grounds upon which these legitimate gambling forms were established, the Hong Kong Mark Six Lottery is primarily a charitable form of enriching people and replacing illegal traditional lottery system perceived to be run by gaming houses with motives to cheat and promote crime.

Current Gambling Laws in Force in Hong Kong

While like Macau, Hong Kong was established as a Special Administrative Region of China, it would seem that the ordinances of the previous colonial authorities would remain unchanged as Hong Kong had retained the previous rules as probably a guideline to rule.

With barely a few changes made and realising what an excellent source of revenue gambling could, gambling has been totally restricted by the government. Of course, it should be known that the British did not ban casino gambling and all, there simply wasn’t any casino at the time, but they did leave a legacy.

Hong Kong still retains all gambling activities which primarily encompasses horse race betting, the age-old (but refined) Mahjong, Hong Kong Mark Six Lottery (the crowd’s favourite) and sports betting.

After centuries of restrictions of gambling activities, the government’s concession to the people’s demands for their favourite pastimes were the gaming activities as mentioned and while playing Poker had been favoured under that jurisdiction, sensing that it tended towards the gambling disorders the previous fathers had tried to combat, it was scrapped in 2010.

As a result, gambling was only channelled to what seemed like the peaceful forms. These rules do not negate the fact that illegal practices had not thrived underground. In fact, the desire to indulge vices and create a quick way for amassing wealth (for the gaming tables are notably one of the fastest ways for those seeking wealth to find their answers) had fuelled the bloom of these “illegal” forms of gambling.

As a result, casino gambling, online gambling, poker, side-bets of dog racing or horse racing, the Chinese fan-tan, the zi-hua (and a host of other traditional betting games) and other forms of lotteries, was favoured underground though considered illegal by the government.

Of course, horse racing is the most legitimate form of betting in Hong Kong with the monopoly concession granted to the Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) by the government; it was better regulated with lesser complaints over time.

Seemingly, since horse racing was simply a sport in the time past and the increased global interest in sports like football, the HKJC proposed and launched the sports betting platform.

And the Casino Cruise Ships? This form of gambling is quite common in the islands. Hong Kong has a restrictive law against cruise ships that offer gaming activities on their territorial waters but given the number of tourists and businessmen pouring into the country to expand their experience and empires, the casino cruise ship business continues to bloom.

Also, as established by the Gambling Ordinance upon integration in 1977, all forms of gaming promotions, settling or receiving bets that are not directly the authorised forms is highly considered illegal.

As regards to online gambling, of course, sports betting is sometimes done online but with the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s network. And while many would consider placing bets online without the authorisation of the Jockey Club and covering their tracks, it is still regarded as illegal and can be traced.

The penalties for flouting the Gambling Ordinances in Hong Kong are quite high. For example, illegal gamblers are susceptible to being imprisoned for about seven years with a fine of 5 million Hong Kong Dollars. Most importantly, the minimum age limit for any of the legal activities is 18.

Anyway, given that Hong Kong is not a “no man’s land” and given these allowances and regulations as well as resulting conflicts, a regulatory body was necessitated to keep things in control, and this precisely is where the Home Affairs Bureau comes in.

Who Regulates Hong Kong’s Gaming Industry?

Notably, gambling has been argued by many to be associated with particular disturbances like money laundering, propensity to cause chaos and other fraudulent activities that would continue to be a headache to the society in general. To avoid these “headaches” and sidestep every irritation to the gaming industry, the Home Affairs Bureauwas set up to regulate gaming in Hong Kong. Till this day, gambling has been restricted to specific outlets by this body.

What is the Tax Situation on Winning from Gambling?

Unlike other gambling cities like Las Vegas, Hong Kong requires no tax levy on winnings. When you win, you go home with your money.

Attitudes to Gambling in Hong Kong

The society on gambling

With HK society arguing that the gaming embraces lots of disorders and minuscule problems that build up to become somewhat disturbing, it is evident that all citizens do not generally accept gambling in Hong Kong society.

Now, though the Hong Kong society had lived through a time when gambling was publicly allowed and not just as restricted as the present day Hong Kong, it was apparent that their outcry against the legalisation of gambling was as a result of the problems encountered by high and excessive gambling. Indeed, a large part of the Hong Kong society had and still does regard gambling as a disease that must be flushed out.

The government on Gambling

Following the general outcry against gambling in the 19th century and the government’s restrictive response, the gambling Industry in Hong Kong has remained legally moderate with just the legitimate boosting the Industry. The regulatory arm of the government has been very strict with penalties for flouting the law.

While Macau still retains its number one position as the world’s gambling capital due to its high-end casinos, hotels and support of Horse racing betting, Hong Kong is still considered the Horse-racing capital. So, even if casino gambling, poker tables and many exciting games are not presently allowed in Hong Kong, the country still does its best with the horse racing games, sports betting, and Mahjong games.

Hong Kong is particularly big on entertainment and socialising, therefore since gambling is not considered the most resourceful way of generating revenue by the government; it is not as prevalent in Hong Kong as in Macau or Las Vegas.

How Safe is Gambling in HK?

Most online gambling and land-based venues come with a degree of risk. As such, it is better to gamble or bet within the confines of the HKJC. The Club ensures that all legal activities are kept safe. Due to the high-rise of crimes attributed to casinos and online betting generally, it is advisable to stay within the range of the legalised forms. Besides, Hong Kong is typically strict with its laws and regulations, and there are high prices to pay for flouting the law.

Options and Venues Worth Exploring

Since casinos are generally unpopular in Hong Kong, the next best form is the Horse Racing Channels. So if you’re not just in Hong Kong for the cultural sites and activities or to play the tourist, you could consider using the Hong Kong Jockey club’s website. Better still, go to where the real action is taking place. The Sha Tin Racecourse and Happy Valley Racecourse are the most popular racecourse where you can be guaranteed action. Another option to be considered is the Football betting and the Mark Six Lottery.  The good news is that they are legalised under the HKJC, you just need to register.

Overall Rating for Hong Kong as a Gambling Destination

All things considered Hong Kong as a gambling nation can only really be rated as average given the legal and social limitation on gambling. Now though the government have tried to accommodate the needs of others, efforts still can’t be applauded entirely considering that the regulations only serve to promote underground gambling. This has merely helped to create a vicious a circle consisting of the government trying to curb these practices and many gamers trying to escape the clutches of the government.

Our View

If you’re particularly keen on casinos, poker, or for the Chinese games of chance, Hong Kong is most definitely not the country to walk into, and you might as well take a straight route to Macau or other favoured gambling nations. However, considering that there are other variable options, you could still have fun in Hong Kong while expanding your pockets.