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September is the AGA’s Responsible Gambling Month in the U.S.A., and, in this third post of our four part review, Bernard Aquilina, Enteractive‘s Responsible Gaming & Compliance Manager, looks at best practices and shifting regulations in Asian markets.

Online Gambling in Asia: Responsible Gambling and Market Insights

The Asian online gambling market is both vast and diverse, with a unique tapestry of regulation, demographics, and gambling preferences. Here, we’ll delve into the latest updates and take a closer look at individual markets, shedding light on demographics, platform preferences, popular games, and concerns over problem gambling.

In Japan, the online gambling market has experienced a transformation since the early 2000s. With the more recent introduction of Integrated Resorts, the country has slowly been opening its doors to gambling. Online gambling, however, remains mostly prohibited, barring a few exceptions like online betting on public sports, horse racing, and motorsports. 

There’s a strong preference for mobile gaming, with young adults being the primary audience. Pachinko remains a cultural mainstay, but online slots and virtual sports are quickly gaining traction. However, the younger demographic’s increased exposure to online gambling platforms has raised concerns about potential problem gambling issues.

Though the country has begun taking steps toward player protection, comprehensive measures specifically for online gambling are still in their infancy.

Online gambling in India has seen a shift in recent years, with online lotteries and poker experiencing growth, particularly among the middle-aged demographic. This shift can be attributed to the rise of smartphones in the country, enabling easier access to these platforms. 

While poker and lottery are popular, cricket betting also garners significant attention, especially during the IPL season. The ease of access to online platforms has led to increased concerns about the younger generation developing gambling issues, leading to calls for better regulation.

Online gambling regulation varies across states, with some like Sikkim and Nagaland allowing certain forms of it. While legislation has been introduced in recent years to provide clearer frameworks, there’s long been a palpable need for unified regulation addressing problem gambling.

In 2023, there were significant developments in this system as the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) introduced amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, introduced a new Finance Bill, and established a legal framework for “self-regulatory bodies”. These self-regulatory bodies comprise companies with specialised knowledge and representatives in the fields of education, mental health, and child rights protection.

This represents a notable shift in the Indian gambling market, marking the first federal-level regulation designed to ensure data and financial security for players.

The Philippines boasts a well-regulated online gambling market, governed by PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation). Offshore operators can obtain licenses, and the country has made strides in promoting responsible gambling, with operators required to implement player protection measures.

The digital realm has seen the rise of POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) offering a myriad of games from traditional casino offerings to locally beloved e-sabong (online cockfighting), while online slots and sports betting, particularly on the Philippine Basketball Association, are also gaining traction, although there are concerns about their accessibility to vulnerable groups. 

Specifically, young adults, low-income groups, and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are seen as most at risk. To counter these issues, the government, through PAGCOR, has initiated responsible gaming programs. This Code of Practice outlines guidelines for responsible gaming, which all PAGCOR-operated and licensed entities in authorized gaming establishments must follow.

Local NGOs, such as DARE Philippines, are also playing a pivotal role by providing counseling and education on gambling risks. Additionally, self-exclusion programs have been introduced, allowing individuals to willingly ban themselves from gambling platforms for a chosen duration.

Online gambling is largely restricted in Singapore, with limited exceptions for some lottery and sports betting products. The Remote Gambling Act, introduced in 2014, places a strong emphasis on preventing problem gambling, with operators mandated to offer self-exclusion tools and other protective measures.

Nevertheless, despite such restrictions being in place, the country’s online gambling landscape has grown diverse, with offshore operators offering a range of popular games catering to different audiences. 

Among the most played online games are slots, live casino table games, and sports betting on both local and international events. In terms of problem gambling, the younger population, specifically those between the ages of 18 and 35, are seen as particularly vulnerable, along with avid sports enthusiasts who might be inclined to place impulsive bets.

Addressing these challenges, the Singaporean government has been proactive. Through agencies like the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), multiple campaigns and programs have been initiated to promote responsible gambling. 

South Korea:
In South Korea, one of the primary issues is the proliferation of illegal online gambling sites. Despite strict laws prohibiting South Korean nationals from participating in most forms of gambling, many individuals still access offshore gambling platforms. The government often cracks down on these illegal websites, leading to a cat-and-mouse game between enforcement agencies and illicit operators.

The online gambling landscape is also somewhat unique, with a significant emphasis on mobile gaming and esports, especially among the younger demographics[1]. This mobile-first approach is due to the country’s rapid technological advancements and high smartphone penetration rates. 

However, alongside the growth in mobile gaming, there’s been a noticeable rise in young individuals experiencing problem gambling issues, necessitating stronger regulatory measures and awareness campaigns.  The government and various non-profit organizations have initiated such campaigns to educate the public about the risks of gambling addiction and provide resources to those who might be struggling.

While South Korea certainly faces challenges in its online gambling sector, it’s reassuring to see that efforts are underway to both enforce existing laws and consider more progressive approaches to regulation and player protection.

Historically, most forms of gambling have long been illegal in China, with the exception of state-run lotteries. Despite this, a significant number of Chinese players resort to offshore sites, showing a particular preference for Chinese-speaking live dealer games based in the Philippines.

In an effort to curb illicit activities, the Chinese government has ramped up its measures, such as launching crackdowns on offshore operators targeting Chinese citizens. 

China’s crackdown aims to protect its citizens from potential harm, financial loss, and criminal activities associated with offshore gambling.  However, the emphasis on responsible gambling within the country remains minimal, indicating a gap in player protection.

Popular Games:
In terms of popular gambling forms, sports betting remains dominant across most Asian markets, closely followed by online poker, slots, and lotteries.

For online casino sites , live dealer games are also gaining immense popularity, outstripping many other online gambling options. One of the primary reasons behind this surge is the trust factor. Players feel more comfortable seeing a real person dealing the cards or spinning the wheel, as opposed to an automated, computer-generated process. This preference is especially strong in regions where skepticism towards online platforms remains prevalent. The realness of live dealer games provides an added layer of assurance to players, making it an attractive option for many[4].

As online gambling continues to grow across Asia, understanding these demographics, preferences, and concerns becomes crucial for stakeholders. It’s evident that while the industry holds significant promise, ensuring responsible gambling practices is paramount.

While certain Asian countries are making significant progress in framing regulations for player protection, there’s a clear disparity in responsible gambling initiatives across the continent. It becomes imperative for these nations to recognize the changing landscape of the gambling sector and implement robust measures to ensure player safety.