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Right now everybody is talking about the US market. Yes, it would dramatically increase the traffic of many top poker rooms. After all, a country with over three-hundred million people is worth fighting for.

But what about an area that has over twelve times as many people? Asia, the world’s most populous continent with almost four billion people is an area that is largely untouched by online gambling by the Western markets. Despite the poker boom all around the USA and Europe, poker in Asia hasn’t reached the same level.

It is surprising because gambling is generally more accepted in Asian communities as opposed to Western ones. Numerology plays a part. The numbers 2,3,5,6,7,8 and 9 for example are all lucky for the Chinese community. The number four in particular is unlucky as it sounds similar to “death” when spoken in Cantonese of Mandarin. It’s similar in Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese communities also.

Historically, gambling in some Asian cultures was a means for telling the future of one’s luck, a significant factor in gambling today, where one sees himself as feeling “lucky” or on a “winning streak”. Chance was more of a Western construct, a win was just a probability of a random occurrence happening. The Asian culture was based more on fate.

It can be seen in Macau’s popular game of choice at their casinos. Baccarat, and it’s European version, Punto Banco. A game that is as close to 50/50 as it can get for the players, the ultimate test of luck.

Macau is today seen as the “Las Vegas of the Orient”, the place to go for the best action and the highest limits. It is also the most well-known location for poker in the continent and the only location which has held events for every season of the Asian Pacific Poker Tour (Australia has also been in every season, but the city has changed)

Macau is certainly thriving as a poker nation, but online gambling is still lacking, why?

The first problem, is that while gambling is popular, for most places, it is illegal. Only three countries in Asia currently allow gambling, Macau, Singapore and the Philippines. Gambling in Japan still tends to be linked with the Yakuza who operate all kinds of illegal sports betting and casino enterprises. The only forms of gambling allowed in the nation are bets on horse racing, motor sports and a state lottery.

China performed a series of raids to shut down illegal gambling, but notified the public that “friendly” games were still allowed. Gambling is fine, taking a cut is apparently not.

For other nations, the law is a little sketchy. Goa, the richest state in India, allows casinos but it is not allowed in the rest of the country. They have also yet to update their Public Gambling Act and IT Act for online gambling specifically, so nobody is really sure whether you can play online or not, years after the debates first started.

In South Korea, a country that was in the Asian Pacific Poker Tour for the first two seasons, they have decided to re-criminalise gambling. Poker is illegal in Thailand but with the community of poker players around in the country, many authorities tend to turn a blind eye to it.

Another problem facing online gambling is the differences of quality in IT and Internet services across the continent. High penetration rates can be seen in Japan (78%) and South Korea (81%). But in China, despite being the country with the highest amount of Internet users, it counts for approximately a third of their population, the same penetration rate for Vietnam and the Phillipines. In Indonesia it’s as low as 16% and India, just 8%.

For publicly traded gambling operators in Europe, they face another problem. Such companies must follow the shareholder agreement to only operate in markets where betting exchanges are legal. In terms of their rules and regulations, there is no market to enter.

Although accessing online poker sites isn’t too tricky, finding a suitable deposit method can often be a problem. It’s unlikely citizens of developing nations would have a credit or debit card to process payments electronically. Instead, “agents” are paid to place money onto sites. This method is unregulated and potentially dangerous for those who cannot afford to pay back.

Will online gaming be legalised in Asia? In time. South Korea and Japan are re-evaluating their stance on gambling right now.

Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia are looking at gambling as a measure of strengthening their economies, tourism and revenue. It’s also a method of protecting citizens from illegal gambling, which funds the black market.

China is still against gambling. But the country is fast becoming the economic super-power that it was claimed to be. More people are going to have money and it is getting harder for Chinese citizens to enter Macau because of the Chinese government’s view on gambling. The government may have to give in to the people’s demands.

When they do, be sure to see many operators looking to cash in on it.

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Perry Garland

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