The Dark Side of Online Gambling: It Has Nothing to Do With Macau

gambling table (source: shutterstock)

Speaking of Macau, the first thing that comes into people’s mind might be the casinos that stay open through the night. However, some online lawbreakers are using this as bait.

The active and regulated gambling industry that exists in Macau has largely contributed to the local economy. As one of the best places for gambling, Macau’s economy largely thrives on the large number of tourists who visit the city for fun, for sightseeing, and most importantly, for trying out their luck. While it is common sense to realize that mathematically, the chance of winning is unfavorable, participating in low-stakes gambling is sometimes quite fun for tourists with an adventurous spirit.

However, for many people, the image of Macau may not be all that positive, despite the city’s established regulations on gambling and casinos. From time to time, mainland China cell phone numbers receive spam messages and potentially malware from ‘Macau casinos’. These short messages, claimed to be coming from Macau, send out pictures of sexy models and promote their online casino businesses ‘based-in Macau’.

These spam messages and emails are definitely not making positive contributions to the city’s image. However, these spamming activities are in fact irrelevant to Macau’s legalized casinos and gaming facilities. In fact, these online casinos are nowhere in Macau. The actual entities are based in Southeast Asian countries outside China, such as Cambodia and the Philippines.

Many Southeast Asian countries legalized casinos and gambling to boost their economy. In the Philippines for instance, the country even went one step further, and legalized online gambling, which creates a system that is even harder to regulate, or ensure gaming fairness. The existing differences in legislation among countries created a loophole for these casinos. While it might be illegal to conduct gambling activities in most places in China, the online casinos based in the Philippines will be unlikely to face any serious legal consequences. In June of this year, 34 Chinese citizens were taken into custody for illegal engagement in online gambling business in Makati, the Philippines.

To expand into larger markets, they started to attract potential customers from China. The spam messages, emails, and the advertisements that are available on pornographic websites, are just the regular promotional strategies that these online casinos use to promote their businesses.

Although these spam messages might seem shady, and the websites often look very rudimentary, the online casinos are capable of hiring adequate staff and maintaining a very organized structure in their daily operations. They act just like any other established company: There have public relations departments for handling external stakeholders, HR departments for managing employee relations, IT departments for maintaining and updating their online products, and of course, the marketing department, which is the group responsible for attracting new users, and getting users to put their cash into the system.

In developed countries, take Canada for example, online gambling businesses are strictly regulated at the provincial level. However, the online casinos that are accessible to Chinese users are totally different. It is very difficult to ensure any forms of fair play on the Internet: The odds of winning, obviously, is also controlled by the companies that set up the website and designed the games. In developing economies like the Philippines, government regulations have yet to establish definitive solutions for these issues, and for average users who access these websites through spam messages, the chances of winning, and cashing out from the casino are slim, or nearly impossible.

While these online casinos are operating just like scams, those who are working for these companies, more likely involuntarily, are also at huge risks both in their financial security and their actual well-being. Companies are utilizing social media and reddit-style forums to recruit and lure potential victims into working for the company. They intend to get the applicants to the Philippines, and once there, criminals will take away their passports, and put restrictions on their personal freedom. For these victims, it becomes a luxury to talk about labor standards and the right to take breaks between work, or argue for a 40-hour working week at all.

Chinese media thepaper reported that overseas gambling companies are using Baidu Tieba, the Reddit-style online forum to recruit online promotion staff for their illegal businesses. According to Chinese law, it is illegal to lure or attract Chinese citizens to engage in online gambling. The salaries of the staff members are not guaranteed, as most are getting paid on a commission-based structure. If they fail to attract enough users to spend money on the site, they will be working for nothing. However, if they attract more users to the site, they are putting more and more people at risk of losing money.