China May Legalize Gambling in Hainan

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China may legalize gambling in Hainan, the country’s southernmost province, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Online gaming, lotteries, and sports betting could be introduced to Hainan, which would pave the way for casinos to enter in the future, per the report. Legalizing gambling would come in conjunction with a new airport in Dongfang and relaxed visa rules for foreigners.

Hainan is often referred to as China’s Hawaii thanks to its tropical climate, beaches, and large tourist industry. Legalizing gambling, which is currently banned in mainland China, would further entrench Hainan as a go-to destination for leisure and tourism.

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While gambling is illegal in mainland China, the Special Administrative Region of Macau has a US$33 billion casino industry – the world’s largest. Macau is currently the only jurisdiction in China where casinos are allowed.

The possibility that China could legalize gambling in Hainan comes as a surprise to many observers, as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s high-profile anti-corruption campaign has sought to curb such behavior. However, the liberalization would be a boon for Hainan’s economy, which has come under pressure from the central government to develop while protecting the natural environment from degradation.

Although Hainan is a popular destination for domestic tourists, it has struggled to attract overseas visitors, who visit neighboring countries in Southeast Asia in far greater numbers. According to Bloomberg, in 2016 there were 7.5 million foreign arrivals in Thailand’s Phuket, compared to just 749,000 in Hainan.

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