Gambling Laws in Hong Kong
Macau gets all the attention as the most prominent gambling destination in Eastern Asia. Not everyone knows that Hong Kong is a betting hotspot too.
But before you jump in and start betting, know this – Hong Kong gambling laws are very strict. We recommend you understand them before you play, or else you might face harsh consequences.
We’re going to help you with that now. Below you will find an overview of the gambling legislation in Hong Kong, including both the positives and negatives about their land-based and online gambling laws.
Hong Kong’s Gambling Laws vs. China’s Gambling Laws
Hong Kong is unique in that, while it’s part of China, it does not share the same laws. That’s because Hong Kong is designated as a Special Administrative Region.
What does this mean?
Well, if you compare Hong Kong to the US, it would be like Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands. These territories have some similarities to the mainland, but they do not have the same rights as US states.
Many Chinese citizens travel to Hong Kong and Macau to gamble. The city they choose to visit depends on the type of gambling they want to do.
We’ll look at the different gambling options each city offers in a moment.
Hong Kong Online Gambling Laws
The Hong Kong Gambling Ordinance makes it clear that it is illegal to operate a gambling business in any form. You cannot legally operate an online gambling website.
However, there is a significant difference between people operating gambling businesses and people who want to bet or play games. Hong Kong’s online gambling laws are less clear for gamblers.
We have researched these laws extensively and discovered that the easiest way to address online gambling in Hong Kong is based on the type of gambling you want to participate in.
Online Casino Gambling Laws in Hong Kong
Hong Kong uses exemption clauses to legalize and regulate new forms of gambling. Everything not legal under one of those exemptions could be considered illegal.
There is no specific exemption for online casino gambling, so some political leaders think it is illegal. However, online casino gambling doesn’t fit into any of the other definitions of illegal gambling either.
Section 6 of the Hong Kong Gambling Ordinance
Section 6 of the Gambling Ordinance prohibits gambling in a gambling establishment. They define a gambling establishment as a place explicitly used for unlawful gambling.
- Since your home does not qualify as a gambling establishment, online gambling from home isn’t a violation.
- If you choose to gamble in public on a mobile device, you would still not be in a gambling establishment.
- Commuter trains or coffee shops are not considered gambling establishments either.
The situation doesn’t get much clearer when you look at Section 13, either.
Section 13 of the Hong Kong Gambling Ordinance
Section 13 of the Gambling Ordinance prohibits gambling outside of gambling establishments.
However, Section 13 only applies when the person gambling and the person operating an unlawful gambling business are in the same place.
Because online casinos are operated by businesses in other countries, you cannot be in the same place as the operator while you are gambling in Hong Kong. Therefore, online gambling does not violate Section 13, either.
As long as you are not gambling in a gambling establishment and are not in the same place as the casino operator, using an online gambling site does not violate Hong Kong gambling laws.
Keep in mind that this only applies to casino gambling, such as slot machines, blackjack, poker, and other casino games.
Online Sports Betting Laws in Hong Kong
The online gambling legislation in Hong Kong is far more particular about sports betting. Section 8 of Hong Kong’s Gambling Ordinance states the following.
Because the ordinance specifies that the bet’s location doesn’t matter, you cannot use a foreign bookmaker as a loophole as you can with casino gambling.
The definition of bookmaking in Section 2 of the Gambling Ordinance also specifies that bets handled over the internet or any online medium are considered illegal.
So, online sports betting is illegal in Hong Kong.
However, sports betting is lawful as long as the Hong Kong Jockey Club operates it.
Types of Legal Gambling in Hong Kong
There are only a few types of gambling that are legal in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club operates almost all of them.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club
The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) was established in 1884.
It is a non-profit organization that distributes approximately 80% of its profit to charitable causes and community taxes.
The HKJC was established with this non-profit structure in the 1880s, but it didn’t become an official gambling establishment until 1977.
That is when Hong Kong passed its gambling ordinance, which gave the HKJC a monopoly on all forms of legal gambling in the country, with mahjong being the only exception.
There are three types of gambling that the HKJC is authorized to operate.
- Horse race betting
- Football (soccer) betting
- Mark Six Lottery tickets
Here’s what Section 4 of Hong Kong’s Gambling Ordinance says about mahjong and gambling.
Mahjong is a popular game in that uses decorated tiles to play a game similar to rummy. Playing mahjong is legal in Hong Kong, but there are a few additional requirements.
Hong Kong gambling legislation states that you must play mahjong in a licensed gambling establishment. Mahjong schools are authorized to operate mahjong games, and they are allowed to collect small fees from players.
They are called mahjong schools because they were created before the Gambling Ordinance passed. The police force began offering business licenses to mahjong operators in 1956.
However, the police force was not authorized to license gambling businesses. So, they called these businesses schools to get around the licensing laws.
At the height of the mahjong business, there were more than 140 mahjong schools in Hong Kong. Today, there are only sixty-six.
The shrinking number of mahjong schools proves that it is a declining market. That might be due to online gambling sites that allow players to play mahjong and other games from their homes.
Casino games are all prohibited under Hong Kong gambling laws. If you want to play slot machines, blackjack, or poker, you will need to catch a ferry to Macau.
Another option is to take a casino cruise. Several cruise ships dock in Hong Kong, take passengers into international waters, and then let them gamble for a few hours before bringing them back to shore.
Legal and Illegal Sports Betting in Hong Kong
Horse race betting was and continues to be a popular pastime in Hong Kong, even though it is a declining industry in other parts of the world.
Between 2016 and 2017, the Jockey Club processed more than HK$216.5 billion in horse racing bets. They paid the government more than HK$21.7 billion in taxes, making it the country’s largest single taxpayer.
The vast majority of people betting on horse races in Hong Kong are citizens or visitors to Hong Kong’s racing tracks.
However, the HKJC has an arrangement with Ladbrokes Coral Group from the UK. It allows people in the UK to bet on horse races in Hong Kong through partner websites.
Hong Kong used to be a British colony, and it was the British colonists that introduced horse racing to the citizens.
Horse racing continues to be prevalent in both the UK and Hong Kong, so the partnership between these two countries is mutually beneficial.
Rise of Illegal Sports Betting in HK
People in Hong Kong love to bet on horse races. But, they also enjoy betting on other sports. There were no other sports betting options for many years, which led to widespread Illegal sports betting.
Hong Kong added football betting (or soccer betting if you are an American) in 2003. The government hoped that this option would discourage illegal sports betting, but it has not been effective.
During the 2014 World Cup, officials in Hong Kong determined that more than HK$500 billion worth of illegal sports bet had been processed. These illegal bets represented a HK$12 billion loss for HKJC.
The addition of football/soccer betting slowed the growth of illegal sports betting in Hong Kong, but that effect was temporary.
Online gambling has become more and more prevalent. The Hong Kong Jockey Club hopes to compete with online bookmakers by offering online betting services.
However, the problem of illegal gambling in Hong Kong is not only an issue of access. Illegal gamblers bet far more than gamblers who choose to use HKJC options.
Oxford Economics conducted a study on illegal and legal gambling in Hong Kong. They found that illegal gamblers spent significantly more money on gambling than legal bettors, no matter what type of gambling they were involved with.
Thousands of Hong Kong residents still work with illegal bookmakers, both in-person and online, and spend millions of dollars in the process.
That is surprising given the harsh punishments that you can face for illegal gambling activities in Hong Kong.
Consequences of Illegal Gambling in Hong Kong
Gambling laws in Hong Kong outline the consequences of illegal gambling in detail.
Here are the potential punishments for gamblers.
- First offense – $10,000 + 3 months jail time
- Second offense – $20,000 + 6 months jail time
- Third offense – $30,000 + 9 months jail time
And here are the potential punishments for operators.
- First offense – Summary Conviction: $5,000,000 + 2 years jail time
- Second offense – Indictment: $5,000,000 + 7 years jail time
Many countries have strict online gambling laws, but they often do not enforce them well. That is not the case in Hong Kong.
Law enforcement is more than willing to use all its resources to catch and charge people violating the Gambling Ordinance. They even have a specialized task force to address illegal betting.
The task force arrested 25 people for being part of an illegal gambling business that had accepted HK$66 million in bets during the 2010 World Cup.
They have continued to pursue illegal betting rings, specifically during the World Cup every four years. In 2014, they seized betting slips and more than HK$750 million in cash. They arrested 45 people in 2018.
Despite facing harsh penalties, and the evidence that Hong Kong’s police force is determined to crack down on illegal sports betting, thousands of citizens still participate.
Hong Kong Gambling Laws for Cheating
Section 16 of Hong Kong’s Gambling Ordinance offers some protection for anyone who has been cheated by another player.
The definition of cheating includes deceiving someone during the game or convincing someone else to place a bet.
Cheaters face stricter penalties than people who are merely playing. They could be charged a fine of up to $1 million or could go to jail for up to ten months.
If you are the victim of cheating, you are free to testify in court or provide law enforcement with any documentation they will need during the investigation.
According to Hong Kong’s gambling laws, you cannot be charged as an accomplice because you participated in gambling.
So, you can pursue charges against someone who cheated without worrying about incriminating yourself.
The ability to press charges for cheating is one of the only consumer protection clauses in Hong Kong’s Gambling Ordinance.
Hong Kong Gambling Laws FAQ
- What is the Legal Gambling Age in Hong Kong?
You have to be at least 18 to participate in any form of gambling in Hong Kong.
- Is it Legal to Use Offshore Gambling Sites in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong’s gambling laws strictly prohibit betting on sports through any unlicensed organization, including foreign websites that accept bets. HKJC is the only licensed sports betting provider.
The Gambling Ordinance does not explicitly address out of area casino gambling options. As long as you are not operating a gambling business, you can use online casinos. However, you may forfeit any rights to protection from cheating.
- Who is Allowed to Operate a Gambling Business in Hong Kong?
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is the only legal gambling business in Hong Kong, and all legal gambling must be operated by them.
Casinos and other foreign operators are not authorized to offer gambling services to residents in Hong Kong. There are also criminal penalties for advertising gambling services or lottery games.
- How Does the HKJC Benefit Gamblers and Citizens?
As the only legal gambling operator, HKJC is responsible for protecting gamblers who use their services. All of their player funds are separated from operational funds.
And because HKJC is a non-profit organization, it gives at least 79% of its profits back to the community.
- How Does Hong Kong Address Problem Gambling?
There are not any problem gambling initiatives included in Hong Kong’s Gambling Ordinance. However, the HKJC launched the Ping Wo Fund in 2003.
The Ping Wo Fund is a collaboration between HKJC and the government. It offers public education on the signs of problem gambling, counseling/rehabilitation services for people with a gambling addiction, and further research on gambling issues.
Where Can I Gamble In Hong Kong?
Now that you know about how the gambling laws in Hong Kong work, you are probably wondering where you can go to gamble.
If you want to gamble online, the only regulated option is the HKLC eWin website. However, you can also use out of area casino gambling websites to enjoy your favorite games from home.
When you want to gamble in person, you will most likely head to one of Hong Kong’s horse racing tracks.
- Sha Tin Racecourse: Sha Tin, New Territories, +852 2695 6223,
- Happy Valley Racecourse: 2 Sports Road, Happy Valley, (852) 2895 1523 or (852) 2966 8111
You can bet on the live horse races at one of these racetracks, or you can visit one of the six off-track betting facilities that are available. All of these locations offer horse race betting, football betting, and lottery tickets.
If you want to enjoy casino gambling in person, you will need to take a ferry to Macau. There are more than thirty casinos in Macau, and the ferry ride is only about an hour from Hong Kong.
If you’re interested in learning more, we have a guide that covers where to play and the gambling laws in Macau.