According to the Gambling Ordinance (CAP 148), enacted in 1977, all gambling activities are illegal except those authorised by the Government which includes authorised horse racing, football betting and Mark Six lottery, and betting premises licenced by the Government or those exempted under the Ordinance.
In May 2002, the Hong Kong Legislative Council voted to ban offshore gambling, including offshore Internet gambling, by passing the Gambling (Amendment) Ordinance. This law makes both offshore betting and bookmaking criminal offenses and provides for criminal penalties against offshore gambling agents that promote, facilitate, or advertise their products to Hong Kong residents.
All gambling activities are run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is the only racing club and legal bookmaker in the territory, and so has a monopoly. Casino gambling in a land-based casino is not legal in Hong Kong.
The Gambling Ordinance under Section 8 specifically prohibits betting with a bookmaker, whether or not the bet is received within or outside Hong Kong. Unauthorised bookmaking is also a crime in Hong Kong, but the law specifically provides that betting with a bookmaker authorised under the Betting Duties Ordinance (Chapter 108), (i.e., the Hong Kong Jockey Club) is lawful. As such, the only way to lawfully bet with a bookmaker in Hong Kong is to patronise the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
The relevant Hong Kong laws on anti-money laundering are: the Drug Trafficking (Recovery of Proceeds) Ordinance (Cap. 405), the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance (Chapter 455), the United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Ordinance (Chapter 575) and the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance (Chapter 615).
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is licensed and authorised by the Hong Kong government to conduct horse racing, football betting and lotteries. The government’s power to license and authorise comes from the Betting Duty Ordinance (Chapter 108). Under the same statute, a Betting and Lotteries Commission is established comprising members appointed by the Chief Executive. The main functions of the Commission are to advise the government on, among other things, the regulation of the conduct of betting on horse races and football matches and lotteries, and the issuance and revocation of licences and the variation of the conditions of such licences. As such, the Commission’s role is advisory instead of regulatory and the ultimate power to issue and revoke licences remains with the government.
In addition to a racing club, the Hong Kong Jockey Club is a private club with clubhouses in Hong Kong and Beijing. Only members of the club may own horses. Personal membership is not transferrable and will only be granted to applicants with the support of voting members subject to the ultimate decision of the Board of Stewards, which comprises a few voting members. Admission to the club’s membership is always sought after among the local elites.
The betting operations and the membership arm are independent from each other, and both are run by professional management teams, governed by the Board of Stewards. Thanks to the betting duties levied on the bets, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has been the largest tax payer in Hong Kong for many years. The profits made from the betting operations are applied to a charity trust set up by the club on donations and social projects for the general welfare of the public.
The Gambling Ordinance contains a robust sanctions regime for non-compliance. As noted above, the Ordinance states that gambling is unlawful in Hong Kong save for a number of limited exceptions. The law creates a series of criminal offences relating to unlawful forms of gambling and lotteries including operating, managing or controlling a gambling establishment
The Club has been closely monitoring the development of illegal gambling activities and in turn enhanced its betting services to ensure its competitiveness vis-à-vis illegal bookmakers, in a bid to prevent the betting money from falling into the hands of illegal bookmakers.
The Club is committed to a multi-pronged approach to combating illegal gambling, through collaboration with community partners in areas of law enforcement, education and prevention. This includes the creation of World Pool, allowing Hong Kong and international racing fans to bet on the best international racing in the world throughout the year. On the one hand, the Club has frequent information and intelligence exchanges with police on the illegal gambling market. On the other hand, it provides strong financial support to Ping Wo Fund each year to commission researches on gambling issues and provide counselling and treatment services to problem and pathological gamblers through NGOs. The Fund also organises regular territory-side educational campaigns to remind Hong Kong people the harms of excessive gambling.
Meanwhile, the Club attaches equal importance to promote responsible gambling among bettors and the community at large. Through many initiatives such as TV info-segments and promotional items displayed at its Off-Course Betting Branches, customers are reminded not to gamble on credit or wager with illegal gambling operations. The Club also conducts regular exchanges with international organisations and overseas counterparts to share experience on how to combat illegal gambling and promote responsible gambling practices.