Author: May Thawdar Oo
Gambling laws in China are stricter than a grade school teacher having a bad day and you’d be forgiven for being more than a little confused about the online gambling scene there.
A country renowned for its love of gambling but with laws that contradict the nation’s passion for a punt, China’s facing a conflict of interest, both individual and political.
According to state-owned news outlet Xinhua, online gambling is thought to generate an estimated one trillion Yuan per year (around €133 billion) in online wagers placed by mainland residents.
It’s a huge online gambling market in China, but how safe is it for online casinos to operate in The Middle Kingdom?
We’ll be taking a look at the most popular social media platforms in China, regulations, localization strategies for the Chinese iGaming market, responsible gambling, and – should you dare to operate in mainland China – the penalties for those caught in the act.
It’s time to head East.
Is Gambling Legal in China?
Gambling is illegal in most parts of China. That said, the SAR (special administrative region) of Macau is home to about 36 casinos while Hong Kong casinos number four. In both Hong Kong and Macau, online gambling still remains legal.
Why is both land-based and online gambling illegal in China? Let’s take a look.
China’s a lovely but complicated country. With a population of over 1.4 billion, that’s about a fifth of the world’s population. Massive populace considered that’s an enormous number of citizens to be governing.
Throw in a highly volatile political scene, extreme health and safety issues, a looming economic crisis, and national discontent making for a turbulent political landscape.
Gambling is illegal in China, but if you were to wander down a side street of an older Beijing neighborhood, you’d witness countless Chinese gamers going head-to-head on Go, Chinese Chess, Dou Dizhu (a card game that translates as Fight the Landlord) – or most commonly – Mahjong.
Playing games for money has been a part of Chinese culture for centuries. For casual street-side gambling, the authorities turn a blind eye.
There’s a perception that China’s a country with incredibly strict laws, although these regulations generally relate to being overspoken about the government.
Gambling laws in China remain just as strict. Surprisingly to some, the majority of Chinese people enjoy greater day-to-day freedoms than most people living in the West.
Online gambling is viewed differently. Even in gamble-friendly areas of China, such as Hong Kong and Macau, online gambling remains illegal.
Why is this? Let’s find out.
Why Is Online Gambling Illegal in China?
Since the dawn of the internet, The Great Firewall of China has been overseeing the availability of internet content for Chinese netizens. TGFC ensures that the following sites are blocked:
The list goes on. But why are these relatively benign sites and apps blocked? There are two main reasons:
- The Chinese government’s need to restrict information
- Self-promotion of Chinese-owned apps with a similar function
Today, a Chinese-produced online casino is close to inconceivable, so it’s sensible to side with the need to restrict information being the CCP’s top priority.
Not only is there potential for customer service channels to become an environment of communication dissent, but there’s also the added concern of foreign-produced apps containing spy software or installing espionage personnel in-country.
How Players Are Still Gambling Online in China
Illegality considered, why are there still many online casino players based in China? We need to take a look at how TGFC operates.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) controls the TGFC. To further the firewall analogy, the CAC basically adds coals to the furnace when they need more sites blocked, or douse it with a few splashes of water if they want to bring down the heat.
To view The Great Firewall of China as an impenetrable blockade is inaccurate and there’s a way of circumventing Chinese internet restrictions, mirroring being one of them.
Mirroring is a web development process that clones sites and provides sites with a different URL (also known as a web address). This cloned site with a new URL will saunter through China’s fiery partition as it’s not on the list of blocked URLs held by the CAC.
Once the cloned site has been flagged, the illegal website operator will simply generate a new URL, and the chase begins again.
Operating an Online Casino in China
If you’ve read this far, it’s an indicator that the legal restrictions haven’t deterred you. If you are one of the brave (one may say unscrupulous) online operators that have decided to operate in China, you’re going to need a quick how-to.
While operating in the Chinese casino market isn’t advised by Translation Royale (or anyone in their right mind), if you’re going to do it, it’s wise to receive your advice here.
Chinese-speaking markets are found world-wide, and with each community, be it in San Francisco or Swindon, will have idiosyncrasies that should be incorporated into your marketing.
It’s All Chinese to Me
Translating and localizing for China are essential. Many believe Chinese to be a singular language, and in some respects, this is correct.
For your casino to provide the correct language options for your players, you’re going to first need to know which market you’re targeting. Language variants for Chinese casino markets are:
- Mandarin – spoken by about 70% of China’s population. Mandarin uses simplified Chinese characters. Mandarin is spoken in Mainland China.
- Cantonese – spoken by 4.5% of China’s population (around 84 million people). Cantonese is primarily the language spoken by Chinese people living overseas. Cantonese uses traditional characters. Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and Macau.
Other markets with a large proportion of Chinese speakers are:
- Taiwan (Mandarin with traditional characters)
- Malaysia (Mandarin with simplified characters)
- Singapore (Mandarin with simplified characters)
In our article on international SEO, we discussed the issue of national identity and the use of flags as a drop-down. As the above linguistic milieu presents, a flag-language approach would be both complicated and also identity insensitive.
It’s almost the equivalent of a Brit clicking on the USA flag for English language options. Not a big deal in this particular scenario but important when dealing with cultures sensitive to both language and politics.
Here, provide two language options:
- 繁體字 (pronounced fan ti zi.) Traditional Chinese characters and suitable for Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Chinese-speaking overseas players
- 但梯子 (pronounced dan ti zi.) Simplified characters and suitable for mainland China, Malaysia, and Singapore.
What Online Casino Games Do Chinese People Play and Why are They so Lucky?
True legend has it that an insanely lucky roulette player of a Chinatown casino in Manchester, England (named BD Luck, as you’d have it) was the one and only player that the Cockney pit boss of said Chinatown casino would happily give £500 and kindly tell him to reverse footsteps.
This is messed up. As we know, gambling’s a numbers game. So, how did Luck luck out every night?
He played a stack of £5 chips in both hands on two roulette wheels that were spinning adjacently and concurrently. He covered the layout, often laying £100 stacks on certain numbers with a spirit of abandon and instinct.
An instinct for winner numbers? Probably not. If a player smashes any game – live or not – they’re going to enjoy a higher RTP.
Maths models are valued for their long-term data, and, although BD was killing it at that particular time, it’s not knowing (philosophy aside) that BD Luck was actually just a very lucky player.
For casino games, Chinese players stick to baccarat, sic-bo, Asian-themed slots, blackjack – and of course – roulette.
Number and Color Association in China
China: a country of mystery, long walls, steeped in superstition. Localization strategies for the Chinese iGaming market need to be aware of a few things before selling to the Chinese-speaking market.
‘Auspicious,’ a word often used to describe numbers in Chinese culture, means a number that has a specific, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, attached.
Often called numerology, thanks to the phonetic similarity of Chinese words (there are about 400 but pronounced or written differently total over 50,000).
Here are the dates to keep an eye out for if you work in marketing. Dates in China follow the YYYY.MM.DD.format:
- XXXX.05.20 – translating as ‘I love you”, it’s like a Chinese Valentine’s Day. Like the world needs another 24-hour period to make single people feel lonely, right?
- 11.11 – repping how it looks – the opposite of 5.20. Think ½ price for lonely-looking people, it’s is a day for singles. It’s also a massive shopping day.
- 8.8 – it also looks like a great late-position poker hand.
- The date whenever the Lunar New Year lands in that particular year.
Let’s make a few sentences sentence with Mandarin numbers while we’re at it. The most widely-known association of numbers are:
- One – Yao: want
- Two – Ai: Love
- Three – Shang: On
- Four – generally avoided (because it is nearly homophonous to the word “death”) but sometimes used as Shi: Is
- Five – Wo: Me
- Six – Commonly used as ‘666’ but not often found in sentences
- Seven – Cha: Eat
- Eight – Fa: Send. Like, send money.
- Nine – Jiu: Alcohol/A Long time
Most of the above words are not pronounced this way in Mandarin, but they’re pretty close.
So, let’s pick a date. 5.27 (twenty-seventh of May). A seemingly innocent date and not something you could lay a marketing hand on (go back a few years and you might find yourself regretting a free spins Obama elect-day promo).
So, the date 5.27 translates as wo ai qi which means “I love eat”. A 5.27 promo might not be the most appropriate promotion for an online casino, but it could always be tied in with a food-themed slot such as Royale with Cheese Megaways, for example.
The meaning of colors in Chinese culture is something that needs to be taken into account when translating and localizing for China.
The colors and their associated meanings in China go like this:
- Red – signifies success, happiness, and good fortune
- Yellow – the royal color. Also carried pornographic connotations
- Green – for health and healing
- Black – a shade to signify authority
- White – the shade of death
- Purple – a hue associated with love
The color red is the obvious choice for design localization strategies for the Chinese iGaming market. Unfortunately, it’s not the best color choice as it tends to bleed out into other colors. Opt for a darker hue to avoid retina-burning red graphics.
Baidu is China’s premier search engine and the algorithm works differently. So you think know SEO? Think again.
While on-page and off-page SEO for Google is one can of keywords, Baidu is another. Here are a few tips for bringing your A-game to Baidu SEO:
- If you’re targeting Chinese users, use simplified Chinese
- Keep your intros short and keyword dense. Baidu typically only crawls the first 100 KB of any page so make sure those first kilobytes count.
- As with Google – minimize bounce rate
- Make sure your site URL has a
- Optimize for mobile
Realistically, you’re going to need to hire a Baidu SEO manager if you’re serious about getting spotted on Baidu.
Chinese banking is a whole new world of financial pain. While in-country, the payment systems work well, it’s trying to facilitate international transfers that can be the problem.
WeChat Pay is the top payment provider in China. Used primarily as a chat app, users can also link their Chinese bank accounts to WeChat.
Foreign-owned casinos (that shall remain nameless) have somehow successfully integrated WeChat deposits into their payment system, so, it is achievable.
Other payment options used by Chinese citizens are:
Visa and Mastercard are also top payment providers in China but proof of funds and other due diligence issues are huge problems for online casinos operating in China.
Social Media in China
Totaling over 890 million active users, the Chinese are nuts about social media. The most popular social media platforms in China are:
- TikTok (known as Douyin)
- Tencent Video
- Baidu Tieba
If you’re thinking about promoting on Chinese socials, it might be wise to direct your marketing budget elsewhere. The CAC (Cyberspace Administration of China) is really hot on shutting down any illegal social media ads in a flash.
China and Responsible Gambling
As gambling is outlawed in China, support for those who experience mental health issues such as compulsive gambling and addiction is, sadly, severely limited. This is where international online casino operators, unfortunately, let China residents down.
To operate an online casino illegally in a country is one matter, but to also allow those suffering from responsible gambling to go unchecked, without any kind of domestic support is downright inhumane and irresponsible.
While learning how to localize for the Chinese Market place is getting ahead of the game, marketers can still segment and promote China-specific offers for the overseas Chinese population in their current markets.
Online Gambling in China: The Lowdown
Undertaking an iGaming business in China is incredibly risky, not to mention illegal. The penalty for those caught gambling in China is up to three years imprisonment.
Online casinos operating out of the country are protected by their location but if an online casino was ever held to rights in China, you can expect the sentence to be incredibly severe.
Instead, iGaming pros can always approach Chinese-speaking populations found in existing markets. Numbering over 60 million, overseas Chinese players are a sizeable market. This is where content localization is incredibly important.
The biggest issue with operating an online casino in China is that there’s no responsible gambling support for those experiencing mental health issues related to gambling. Even psychotherapy is banned in China. This is because the Chinese government isn’t particularly fond of private conversations between individuals.
The Chinese casino market is vast. Yet, until there are major political reforms, it’s highly unlikely that gambling, both land-based and online, will be legalized.
Header Image Source: Photo by Elina Sitnikova on Unsplash
How did you like May Thawdar Oo’s blog post “All on Red: Online Gambling Scene in China”? Let us know in the comments if you have anything to add, have another content idea for iGaming blog posts, or just want to say “hello.” 🙂