Gambling in Macau: Laws, History and Where to Gamble Online
- Casino Gambling: Legal
- Poker: Legal
- Horse Racing Betting: Legal
- Lottery: Legal
- Football Betting: Legal
- Charitable Giving: Legal
- Social Gambling: Unspecified
- Online Gambling: Unspecified
Macau is the gambling capital of the world, with a rich gambling history spanning two centuries.
The gaming industry accounts for about half of Macau’s annual economy, and in 2007 Macau surpassed Las Vegas, Nevada, as the world leader in total annual gambling revenue.
This page is here to provide information on gambling laws in Macau, including the legal status of online gambling in Macau and how citizens in Macau may legally gamble online.
Before you read on, please read our friendly disclaimer.
We strive to make sure our information is as accurate and up to date as possible, but we are not lawyers.
Everything you read on our page is based on our interpretation of our own research.
If you have any questions beyond or in addition to whatever you read on our page, consult an attorney or the appropriate government agency for more information.
The Legal Status of Gambling in Macau
Gambling in Macau has been legal since the mid-19th century when the government legalized gambling to help generate revenue. Macau introduced a licensed monopoly system soon after, and that system remained in effect for over a hundred years.
It was not until 2002 that the Macau government lifted their monopoly system, allowing gaming operators from around the world to apply for a license and compete in the Macau market.
Formerly a colony of Portugal, Macau has been under the control of the People’s Republic of China since 1999 as one of China’s two Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong being the other).
While China has ultimate authority on foreign matters and national security, Macau still retains most of its autonomy and is still responsible for running their own legal system and local government. This autonomy extends to gambling laws, which China did not interfere with when it gained control.
Macau has very liberal gambling laws, and as such, gambling of all forms can be found throughout the territory and the nearly 40 casinos that operate within it, including casino games, lottery, horse racing, sports betting, and poker.
Macau has always been considered the major gambling hub of the east, but now that it has liberalized further and opened itself up to the world market, its place atop the world rankings in gambling revenue is of little surprise.
Is Online Gambling Legal in Macau?
Macau’s online gambling laws are unique compared to the rest of the world. Technically, there are no concrete laws regarding online gambling.
When you normally think of a jurisdiction having no set of laws addressing a particular topic (e.g., online gambling), you generally conclude that the absence of law equates to no regulation of that topic, thus making the behaviors involved legal (or at least allowable).
However, in the legal culture of Macau (and other Chinese regions), regulation by the government is an important requirement of legitimacy and permission. As a result, a lack of regulation can often mean that the topic in question is not permitted.
In this case, online casinos are not expressly defined or regulated by the Macau government, so it is implied that operating an online casino in Macau is illegal.
That said, the public is currently allowed to place bets with foreign-based online casinos (unlike citizens in Hong Kong). Where the lack of regulation works against the online operator, it works in favor of the gambling consumer.
There are many online casino companies that cater to Macau players, although there are some who have backed out of the market for fear of potential interference by the Chinese government, which takes a strict stance on gambling in general.
For now, Macau is perhaps the most liberal gaming environment in the world. But from an online gaming standpoint, the lack of legislation addressing the topic puts Macau in a situation similar to the rest of the world – operators are currently shut out, but the public is free to seek it out at their own risk and leisure.
Where Can I Gamble in Macau?
There are over 30 major brick-and-mortar casinos in Macau. They include both the traditional gambling stalwarts from Macau’s glittery past and the new resorts that have appeared from western companies.
Here are our top six gambling locations.
Online Gambling Options in Macau
Again, online casinos cannot currently operate out of Macau, but the public may still enjoy online gambling.
The most important thing for gambling online legally from Macau is to do business with a site that is located offshore. There are no online casinos operating in Macau, but even if there were, we wouldn’t recommend them.
However, there are plenty of highly reputable offshore operators in the industry that make it a priority to serve the Macau gambling market. We have some of our best recommendations below.
History of Macau Gambling Laws
Gambling is legalized in Macau by Portuguese colonial government.
Licensing system is established for gambling houses.
Monopoly is granted to Hou Heng Company. Hou Heng opens the Central Hotel and brings modern innovations to the Macau gambling scene (e.g., refurbished casino floor, complimentary food and shows).
Dog racing is introduced to Macau when the Macao Canine Club opens the Yat Yuen Canidrome.
Tai Heng Company is granted a monopoly. Tai Heng introduces baccarat and other western casino games.
Macau is declared a “permanent gaming region” by Portuguese Governor Jaime Silverio Marques.
Macau government allows casinos to offer slot machine action.
Monopoly is granted to the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macao (STDM). STDM opens various casino and resort hotels in Macau and dominates the gaming market for the next 40 years.
Football betting is made lawful so that citizens can gamble on the 1988 World Cup.
Portuguese Administration of Macau officially ends. Control of Macau is returned to the People’s Republic of China as a Special Administrative Region (SAR).
Macau effectively ends gaming monopoly system, allowing for the granting of gaming concessions and sub-concessions to casino operators from around the world. Wynn, Sands Las Vegas (Venetian), and MGM are among western operators to build resort hotel and casinos.
Further Reading on Macau Gambling Laws
Thomson Reuters Practical Law™
This resource provides a sound guide to the gaming laws of Macau. It answers the most common and basic questions, cites the source of Macau’s gambling laws, and provides a great overall legal framework while being easy to read.
International Law Office
This is an interpretative take on what the lack of online gambling legislation means for operators and gamblers in Macau. It is written by Portuguese gaming law attorneys based in Macau.
Macau Gambling FAQ
How did Macau become such a huge gambling hub?
Macau’s gaming industry has exploded due to the Macau government’s relaxed gaming law environment combined with the fact that gambling is illegal in many other parts of Asia, including China and Hong Kong.
The vast majority of annual visitors to Macau come from these two places.
Will Macau eventually regulate online casinos or online poker?
The Macau government had considered addressing the issue of online gambling as far back as the late 1990s and early 2000s, but efforts stalled out rather decisively, with many experts believing that the Chinese government played a role in keeping Macau from liberalizing online gambling to target the Chinese market (where gambling, beyond a few state-sponsored lotteries, is illegal).
Online gambling is constantly on the minds of legislatures around the world, and Macau is no exception. The politics of the day play a big role in this sort of thing, so all we can do is wait and see.
Can the Chinese government outlaw online gambling in Macau?
Thankfully, no. The joint resolution between Portugal and China that returned Macau to Chinese control stated that Macau would have autonomy in nearly all of its legal matters for at least 50 years after the transfer.
So Macau will have full control of its gaming laws, free of Chinese interference, until at least 2049.
Will Macau ever make online betting illegal like in Hong Kong?
It’s highly unlikely.
Most experts agree that Macau would very much prefer to legalize, regulate, and tax online casino operators. But the problem isn’t Macau – it’s China.
China has made it clear that they would like increased crackdowns and limitations on gambling, but Macau’s economy is too dependent on gaming to capitulate to outside attempts at arbitrary restrictions.
We’d like to think that Macau will soon get wise and become a leader in online gambling regulation, but because China looms as the elephant in the room, it’s really anyone’s guess.
On the betting front, the only way Macau would even consider such a move is if pressure from the Chinese gets extreme, and we don’t see that happening until the SAR provision ends in 2049.
Meddling with Macau now has deep international political consequences now that western casino conglomerates are entrenched there, and even the most zealous Chinese government would be foolish to mess with the money train that flows from theregion.