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Gambling Law Around the World – A Confederacy of Dunces

| March 1, 2019 12:00 am PDT
Gambling Law Around the World in 2019

There’s a hundred and ninety-five new sheriffs in town.

The United Nations says there are 195 countries in the world (I wonder if they include the Nation of Islam, the Five-Percent Nation, and Douche Nation among that number…).

And each nation has its own peculiar way of requiring or prohibiting something about gambling.

It was easier to take each nation’s gambling laws more seriously before the internet. Your weekly foray into the alley for some street craps could be (and typically was) easily busted by the local gendarmerie, and your life was ruined.

But outside your locality, nobody cared if mama needed a new pair of shoes.

These days, your gambling is governed by not only local law enforcement, but by county, state, federal, and world authorities, as well.

An online casino you frequent might be physically located in Costa Rica, licensed by Curacao, certified in the Isle of Man — and legally playable only in Canada.

Oh, and it is regulated by the laws of each and every one of those governing bodies. Good luck sorting out that legislative dog’s breakfast.

Your Government at Work

No aspect of human endeavor is more regulated, licensed, and prohibited than gambling (sometimes all at once).

Even stranger is that you can stand in one spot and be prohibited from buying a lottery ticket, but if you take a single step to the left, you can buy a lottery ticket — but only from the government.

Take a few more steps, and suddenly you can legally place a prop bet that John Wayne will posthumously win an Academy Award this year.

In case you hadn’t noticed, your government is cray-cray about gambling (I don’t even have to know what your nationality is or which form of government you live under to make this a true statement).

Even within a single nation, there is mass confusion and contradiction among its gambling laws that make an Abbott and Costello routine look like a treatise on the Austrian school of economics by comparison.

Is the lottery gambling? Not if it’s run by the government (US, Germany, New Zealand, and a host of others).

Is poker a game of skill? Many governments take the tack that betting in a game of chance is gambling, but betting in a game of skill is not.

So it stands to reason (and that’s the last time you’ll see me use “reason” in an article about governmental gambling laws) that some agreement could be found among governmental entities as to whether poker is a game of chance or of skill. You’d think that.

Well, it is considered a game of skill in a number of US states. In others, it’s lumped in with games of chance, which means it falls under the jurisdiction of that state’s anti-gambling laws.

Want to build a casino? Only if you’re a member of one protected group or another (Canada, US, among others). Only if you never intend to let your fellow countrymen place a bet there (Philippines, South Africa).

Want to play at an online casino? Only if it’s physically located in your province/state (Germany, US, India), sometimes only if you’re also physically in that province/state (Germany, US, India).

And let’s not forget the height of contradiction — Philippine gambling law — which permits all manner of gambling in its government-run casinos, allows domestic companies to host online casinos within its borders, but makes it illegal for those domestic online casinos to accept bets from Filipinos. Yes, you read that right

A Filipino can make a legal bet with a foreign-based online casino from the laptop on his kitchen table, but the local online casino hosted in an office building across the street is not permitted to accept a bet from that same Filipino. They can wave at him, though. Probably.

Worse, in the Philippines, there’s a special area called the “Cagayan Freeport” where casinos are free to operate without the state-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) watching over them — but they are permitted to do business only with tourists.

By now, it should be apparent that when viewed from the proper distance, the legislation of any popular good or service results in the oddest patchwork of contradiction, wish-fulfillment, and prohibition imaginable.

Generally speaking, most countries that permit any form of gambling at all seem to have a special place in their hearts for government-run gambling enterprises but a less-than-neighborly view of any other form.

What is it about a government’s imprimatur that gives an action the air of civic duty which, without it, would be a sinful vice?

Unaware he was speaking for all governments everywhere, when King Richard of England was asked what justifications he had for ruling, he replied, “Dieu et Mon Droit” (“God and my right”). No arguing with that, is there?

Online Gambling Around the World

Let’s trot the globe, shall we, and take a gander at the various and sundry approaches to online gambling we can find among the United Nations. Please keep your hands, arms, and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and do not feed the animals.

Australia

While the Land Down Under treats online sports betting and bookmakers like adults who can make their own decisions about gambling thank you very much, online casinos are prohibited from operating within the country’s borders, and foreign online casinos are likewise prohibited from allowing Australians to place bets with them.

The nation’s law is silent, however, on what might happen to the Strine who places a bet with an online casino.

Just remember this if you gamble online in Australia: A government that does not recognize you as a gambler will also not be overly concerned about helping you collect on gambling debts.

Canada

Several Canadian provinces (British Columbia and Manitoba, for example) run their own online casinos, but you must be a resident of the respective province to play legally.

Elsewhere, the Kahnawake Mohawk, safe and sovereign on their own land inside Quebec, have built an empire from a server farm that has been home to more than 250 online casinos.

Whatever the de jure fantasy is in Canada, the de facto reality is that online gambling is available to any who want it.

France

Leave it to the French to do this one thing right: Online gambling is legal in France, period. Go figure. Well, what else would you expect from a country that has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?

Okay, that was harsh. And they did also get Edith Piaf right. And guillotining the majority of their government showed — upon reflection — incredible foresight. So, what the hell: Viva la France!

Hong Kong

While gambling via a bookmaker is illegal in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Jockey Club holds the monopoly on horse races, soccer matches, and lotteries.

If you’re not placing a bet or buying a lottery ticket from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, you’re breaking the law.

India

Like Australia, India seems intent on prohibiting online casinos but rather lackadaisical in its approach to the people placing the bets. India has a few brick-and-mortar casinos along its western coast, and online betting on events such as horse racing, cricket games, as well as the various state-run lotteries is permitted.

Additionally, poker is considered a game of skill in India, and consequently, is quite legal to play online. Online games such as slots and video poker, roulette, etc., however, are not allowed, and the only thing keeping the Indian people from NOT obeying the law is the lack of prosecution of online gamblers by the Indian government.

Republic of Ireland

Apparently, something is horribly wrong with Ireland, because online casinos here are legal, and online gambling is not prohibited. It’s almost like all the adults in the room moved to the Republic of Ireland and started passing rational, sane laws. Inconceivable!

Naturally, any online casino wishing to do business here must be licensed by the Irish government. And once licensed, its doings will be regulated and taxed by the same.

New Zealand

New Zealand takes the novel approach that online gambling isn’t morally repugnant or frightfully sinful — provided that kiwis do their betting with foreign-based online casinos. Even the EnZed government is unclear as to why this is, but let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

So, for the foreseeable future, online gambling is legal in New Zealand. Just make sure you’re dealing with an online casino that is not based in New Zealand (which shouldn’t be hard, since there are none).

Philippines

As I mentioned, the Philippines is a paragon of contradiction in a world already rife with irrational laws concerning gambling. Online casinos are allowed to operate within the confines of the Cagayan Freeport but may only do so with tourists — no Filipinos, please.

Online gambling is “permitted” (insomuch as it is not actively prosecuted) elsewhere in the Philippines, mostly because the government is silent on penalties for placing bets online (much the same as Australian gambling laws).

South Africa

While there are dozens of brick-and-mortar casinos in South Africa, online gambling is illegal.

Sure, there are online casinos that accept deposits in Rands. And maybe a South African or two has played at the occasional online casino, but really, what business is that of ours?

United Kingdom

The UK treats online gambling like any other enterprise: It licenses, regulates, and taxes it. Quite thoroughly, in fact. Quite thoroughly indeed.

This makes online casinos that are fully legal in the UK exceptionally popular with players in other countries, simply because of the unlikelihood of fraud or theft on the part of the heavily regulated and monitored casinos.

United States

Alexis de Tocqueville may have written eloquently and approvingly of the American Experiment, but these days, he would probably liken it to the science experiment taking place in the back of my refrigerator.

The US approach to online gambling differs from state to state. Online poker rooms are legal in Nevada if you are also in Nevada. Full-fledged online casinos operate in New Jersey and will take your bets as long as you are also in New Jersey. How do they know where you are? Come on. How long have you been on the internet? They know everything.

Even while brick-and-mortar casinos proliferate throughout most of the 50 states, legal online casinos remain severely limited. Online poker rooms suffer from the same odd bias. Is poker a game of chance or a game of skill? Who cares? We’ve got trouble, my friends! Right here in River City!

Still, as with virtually all the other countries that prohibit online casinos, it remains possible to find one that will accept your deposit of US dollars and pay out withdrawals in the same manner, and only light internet gymnastics are required for either step.

The Internet Spoiled Everything!

Getting back to King Richard’s arrogance (and what discussion of international gambling laws is complete without a nod to 17th-century British royalty?), “Dieu et Mon Droit” didn’t seem all that alarming to his subjects.

After all, since time immemorial, governments have issued mandates as equally free of logic, consistency, and reason as anything King Richard may have said or done.

When the county seat is a day’s walk from your humble home, and everyone else you know lives under the exact same constraints as you, it’s hard to imagine life as anything but what you and your neighbors experience daily.

Most of history is filled with the exploits and decrees like those of kings and princes, but few history books even acknowledge that — excepting the lives of royalty — a man’s life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Yeah, that Thomas Hobbes was one cheerful guy, eh?

Think that “nasty, brutish, and short” comment was out of line? A little harsh, maybe?

Okay. Name one person you know that must labor from dawn to dusk simply to grow enough food to feed his immediate family. Extra points if that person saw three of his five children die shortly after birth, and his wife’s death giving birth to the fifth.

Time’s up; I couldn’t name one, either. But that was the fate of virtually every living person throughout recorded human history.

These days, of course, man’s life has become somewhat less dismal and hopeless than Hobbes observed back in 1651.

The Industrial Revolution, coupled with the global spread of various versions of representative democracy, is responsible for most of the wealth and comfort we non-royalty types enjoy today.

The internet was just one of the thousands of innovations in the past hundred years that has dramatically changed human life. And gambling — like it, love it, or hate it — was one of the two or three main growth hormones that gave us the leviathan worldwide web we have today.

Everybody with an internet connection (and that increasingly means “all of us”) can access the same online casinos, deposit what is increasingly a global currency (Bitcoin, et al), and gamble until we’re tired, rich, or broke.

And that’s really the problem, isn’t it? A farmer might be content with his short life’s drudgery as long as he thinks there’s no other choice. But the internet… The world’s greatest reference library? Suddenly that farmer knows there is nothing BUT choices out there.

Suddenly, those local, state, and federal laws look ridiculous compared to the laws of the country next door (the laws of which, to be fair, appear as contradictory and foolish to its own citizens).

Think of an eight-year-old kid catching frogs along the back of a large pond. As the kid stretches out his hand to grab another frog, one or more of the frogs he’s clutching to his chest escapes. Why is he catching frogs, you ask? Because he’s eight years old. Duh.

Anyway, as I was saying before I was interrupted, the frog-catching (and escaping) continues until the eight-year-old gets tired or bored.

In terms of online gambling legislation, virtually all the governments in the world are at the eight-year-old-catching-frogs stage of the process. They really can’t explain why they’re doing it or what they will do once they are finished, but in the meantime, isn’t this fun?

Final Words

There are many things governments alarm themselves into prohibiting. But prohibition doesn’t end a practice; it merely creates a black market for it — usually with inflated prices because it is now more dangerous to “deliver the goods,” so to speak.

That thing that was legal yesterday, but today for some reason is illegal? There’s somebody doing it right now. Throughout history, governments have ruled under the arrogant notion that their commands are legitimized by “Dieu et Mon Droit.” That worked in the past.

But not today. Today, the internet begs to differ.

J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

More Posts by J.W. Contact J.W.

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