THE CHINESE GAMBLING MARKET

It’s well known fact that Macau and Hong Kong are the leading areas when we are talking about physical casino business (Macau) or horse betting business (Hong Kong). But how much we know about the Chinese gambling market? I have now visited some times in Beijing and tried to understand more what is situated in there and what might happen in next few years.

It’s obvious that when the country has about 1,4 billion inhabitants, there is huge business possibilities in all business areas and that’ the case of course in gambling business. But the State of China has prohibited gambling actions and is also controlling that quite closely. Anyhow it has said that the illegal market in sports betting and casino business is huge in Asia but it’s that the case also in China? According to estimates the illegal interactive gambling business in China is just about 1,5 B€ (GGR) which is not so much compared to the size of the country.

There is a general level prohibition on gambling activities in China, but there are few exceptions to that. There are two state-owned lotteries which have licenses to operate lottery games and limited numbers of VLT machines (video lottery terminals). They are only allowed to run lottery business in retail channel, so digital online business is not allowed – at least yet. As I already said, the Chinese state is actively fighting against illegal gambling activities and especially against cross-border operations. There are quite heavy punishments in they legislation for illegal gambling and I’m sure that they will use those tools if they manage to catch illegal operators.

Ministry of Finance has approved two licenses for lottery operations – the other one is for China Sports Lottery (CSL) and the other one for China Welfare Lottery (CWL). In fact, there seems to be a little bit strange duopoly situation in that market. As far as I know, those two licenses are almost the same. If the other lottery would get permission to introduce something new, the other one would probably get the same kind of permission. The only difference is now in sports games area where Sports Lottery has license to have some lottery style sports games.

It’s not big surprise that CSL and CWL are the two biggest lotteries in the world. Now CSL is slightly bigger than CWL but they are about the same size. The sale of both lotteries seems to be at the level of 30 billion euros a year – the total sale is about 60 B €/year. The development of sales in last ten years has been huge but now both lotteries have faced big challenges. Their businesses have suffered a lot this year and decrease has been so big that the Chinese state should consider some changes to help that business.

What kind of big changes there might be? I’m 100 % sure that China will continue with monopoly (duopoly) based system, so there won’t be any other licenses although the local governments have had and still have quite big role to decide practical level issues. Based on my knowledge the role of local governments won’t become bigger in gambling area but rather will decrease. I believe that the Chinese state will try to control even more the gambling business than they have done until now. It might mean two changes – either huge merger of CSL and CWL or tighter integration of those two companies and their local organizations. I don’t believe that this huge merger will happen very soon. That’s why I think that both CSL and CWL will have new organizational structure where central company will have bigger and more important role than they have at the moment.

The other big change which I expect to see soon is online lottery business. Online purchase of some lottery products was allowed for a while in 2015 but lotteries had to close that operation quite soon. The Chinese state released online lottery directive already in 2016 when they suggested that online lottery sales would be allowed, but nothing has happened in practical level after that. I guess that now when both lotteries have faced problems in their businesses, the government will give them license to have limited offering in online channel. I believe that the legislation will change next year and CSL and CWL could start online business in 2021. Chinese people are using mobile payment more than I have seen anywhere else and that’s why I believe that mobile lottery might be big success in China.

The third potential big change might be sports betting. CSL is running some football and basketball sports games but there is no real official sports betting in China. There would be huge business potential available in sports betting, but the Chinese politicians might consider sports betting as “too heavy gambling” and that’s why I don’t believe that fixed odds sports betting would be allowed very soon. CSL and CWL might have chance to get more wider license for lottery style sports games (pool-based games) in next few years.

As a short summary I would say that there will be some big changes in the Chinese gambling market, but it won’t open big business opportunities for foreign companies at least in short term. The State of China will keep tight control on that and will help their own companies to develop their businesses. Some good gambling technology suppliers might have business possibilities if they managed to establish joint venture companies together with Chinese operators.

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