Illegal gambling sites in the Philippines are creating an international controversy
Online Poker Report

China Takes On Illegal Online Gambling Sites, With President Xi To Get Involved

China online gambling president xi

China is taking illegal online gambling sites emanating from the Philippines extremely seriously.

How seriously? The Chinese embassy in the nearby country issued a formal statement, and it’s expected to come up in a meeting this month between the country’s presidents.

It’s an interesting pushback on illegal gambling involving the highest levels of government.

Online gambling in China, at a glance

There is no shortage of gray or black market operators that do or attempt to serve China. Despite the country’s aggressive stance toward censoring everything, including the internet, it’s obviously still possible to gamble online in the world’s most populous country.

One particular segment of the online gambling market has attracted the ire of China: sites operating out of the Philippines. That’s partially because China considers online gambling sites that operate outside of the country to be illegal.

A company set up specifically to serve the Chinese market — the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. — is what China is taking issue with proximately, however.

More from the Chinese embassy:

According to the Chinese laws and regulations, any form of gambling by Chinese citizens, including online-gambling,  gambling overseas, opening casinos overseas to attract citizens of China as primary customers, is illegal. The casinos and offshore gaming operators (POGOs) and other forms of gambling entities in the Philippine target Chinese citizens as their primary customers.

And:

Second, the fact that a large number of Chinese citizens are lured into illegal gambling has resulted in an increase of crimes and social problems in China. In particular, some gambling crimes and telecom frauds are closely connected, which has caused huge losses to the victims and their families.

More than just illegal gambling

But it’s more than that. If it were just illegal gambling sites operating in China, it probably wouldn’t have escalated to an international incident. A big part of the problem, as China sees it, is that Chinese nationals are largely the people working for these sites.

A large number of Chinese citizens have been illegally recruited and hired in the Philippine gambling industry. In many cases, the employers of Philippine casinos, POGOs and other forms of gambling entities do not apply necessary legal work permits for their Chinese employees. Some Chinese citizens are even lured into and cheated to work illegally with only tourist visas.

More from the Financial Times on the issue here.

Anyway, suffice it to say, China is not happy that the Philippines is both promoting online gambling in China while simultaneously using Chinese citizens to make it happen. They are also being used to operate online casinos in other countries; here’s an example in Vietnam.

Presidents of China, Philippines getting involved

The situation will likely get to the heads of state for both countries, according to a recent report:

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Saturday (Aug. 10) expressed confidence China’s concerns over online casinos in the Philippines catering to Chinese gamblers, which Beijing had declared as illegal, would be resolved by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping when they meet later this month.

That would likely be the highest level at which online gambling has been discussed in just about any country.

Would this ever happen in the US?

The problem of illegal online gambling is hardly unique to China. Dozens if not hundreds of offshore gambling companies serve the US despite the fact that federal and state laws don’t allow it (unless regulated, like in New Jersey, Nevada and Pennsylvania).

The likelihood of this reaching the highest diplomatic levels in the US is slim, although the issue has been simmering as a trade dispute with at least one Caribbean nation for years.

The most likely place for pressure to come from would be from law enforcement, specifically the Department of Justice. The infamous Black Friday of 2011, when the DOJ seized the domains of some major online poker companies, is the last time there’s been major action on the online gambling front in the US.

With the rise of legal sports betting here, there’s at least more attention being paid to the issue of offshore gambling sites serving the country. But it’s still not close to getting the kind of attention that it is in China right now.

Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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