What is the future of online gaming in Asia? It’s a question raised often at gaming conferences around the world yet one that is not so simple to answer, complicated by an almost universal reluctance by governments Asia-wide to bite the bullet and pursue a legalized and regulated iGaming industry.
With the exception of sports betting in Australia and New Zealand and various state-run lotteries, regulated online gaming in Asia is basically limited to the Philippines via its POGO and PIGO platforms – the former of which has been plagued by controversy in the years since its launch back in 2016. In fact, even licensed POGOs – which are permitted to operate out of the Philippines but can only provide online gaming to players based offshore (ie. not in the Philippines) – operate in a gray area at best. After all, if an operator is providing services to players in countries where the provision of such services is prohibited, then it’s not really regulated at all.
So, across the vast majority of Asia, it remains illegal to provide online gaming services to local citizens and in many cases illegal for those citizens to participate in them as well.
Not that this has stopped operators or players from doing so. Depending on who you listen to, Asia’s iGaming market is worth anywhere between US$20 billion and US$40 billion per year, although I suspect it is many multipliers more than that given the size of markets like China and India. It is also widely reported that India’s illegal cricket betting market alone is worth upwards of US$150 billion annually.
Unlike the European model, where many countries allow the provision of online gaming services by operators licensed in jurisdictions like Malta and the Isle of Man, no such model exists in Asia and no such model is likely to materialize any time soon.
As an example of just how regulators in the Asia-Pacific region view foreign-issued gaming licenses, I refer to the Regulating the Game conference held in Sydney in March, where one particular regulatory body was asked whether they are able to work with regulators in places like Curaçao (pictured) in tracking down those providing illegal services to Australians. The response was that it was hard enough tracking down the Curaçao regulator itself, let alone the operators it purports to oversee.
The reality is that, as it stands, there seems to be little appetite for governments across much of Asia to regulate online gaming. If anything, most are upping their efforts to ban it, given recent crackdowns in places like China, Cambodia and Australia. And so, while operators and various industry suppliers will continue to be drawn to the incredible riches the region’s online gaming market offers, their future looks set to remain very much grounded in the gray (or black) market.
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