Online Gambling in Malaysia

Malaysia has emerged as one of the most financially robust nations in Southeast Asia since becoming a free nation in the late 1950s. Gambling is a tricky prospect in Malaysia, as the largely Muslim nation has very strict gambling laws that render gaming essentially illegal, though there are some options to be found. Here, looks at the state of play in Malaysia, how online gambling features, and what the major markets and games are in the country.

The Legal Landscape

Following the Betting Act of 1953, 'common betting houses' are illegal in Malaysia, so anyone operating as a sports bookmaker or found betting in one is breaking the law. However, certain forms of gambling are legal in the country - the Lotteries Act 1952 allows lotteries to be run, while the Racing Act 1961 permits betting on horse racing, but only at a physical race course. Other than that, the only other legal gambling venue in the country is the Genting Highlands Resort (more on that below), and, even then, Sharia law prevents Muslims from taking part on religious grounds.

The status of online gambling in Malaysia is considerably less clear-cut, however. There are no specific references to online gambling in the Betting Act, and no relevant amendment has yet been made, so the market remains largely unregulated. That said, the government does not issue licences for online casinos, and tries to hinder citizens' access to foreign sites by instructing banks not to sanction transfers to overseas online casinos.

Internet cafés across the country have become hubs for illegal online and land-based gambling venues, and calls for legalisation have become increasingly common to combat the proliferation of such crime. However, the ambiguous legislation around betting on the internet means that many Malaysians gamble online without any trouble - indeed, some of the world's biggest online bookmakers and casinos happily accept players from Malaysia, including 888sport and Mr Green.

Popular Markets

Badminton is probably the sport that Malaysia has had most success in, but football is the most popular game in the country, with people of all ages taking part in the sport. Much of the money gambled at online bookmakers is on football matches in the country’s domestic Super League, as well as the major European divisions (particularly the English Premier League). Beyond gambling on football, legal betting at horse races is also popular among non-Muslim citizens, while Sports Toto, a 4D (four-digit) lottery operator, has around 680 outlets across the country.

The only legal, land-based casino in Malaysia is the aforementioned Genting Highlands Resort, which houses the Casino de Genting. Situated 6,100ft above sea level in the Titiwangsa Mountain Range, the ‘Fun City Above The Clouds’ is far from the usual casino, and its unique setting makes it a must-see for those visiting the country. Coaches from Kuala Lumpur can get visitors there within an hour, so it’s not as out-of-the-way as it might initially seem, and the adjacent theme park and hotels mean that gamblers won’t get bored if they feel like taking a break from the tables.

Of course, not everyone can head to a mountain resort when they want to gamble, and while there are no companies operating from within Malaysia, there are other online betting options based overseas. Bet365, which offers both a sportsbook and a casino, not only accepts Malaysian players, but also allows deposits to be made in Malaysian ringgits.

Major Gambling Events

While the domestic Super League is among the most widely followed competitions in the Malaysian sports calendar, the country is best known on the international scene for hosting two major motorsports events; both the Formula One Grand Prix and the Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championships have Malaysian stages, taking place since 1999 and 1991 respectively. Even before its inclusion in the World Championship, the track at Sepang had regularly hosted races since the early 1960s.

The Future of Gambling in Malaysia

It still remains to be seen what the future holds for gambling in Malaysia. The country’s dual-system of law – the Sharia-governed Syariah Courts for the nation’s Muslims (over half of the total population) exist in parallel to the secular courts, which allow freedom of religion – continues to provoke discussion, with the debate on-going as to whether the country’s laws should reflect a secular or Islamic viewpoint. Gambling is one of the subjects at the centre of this debate, with the question of legalisation a hot topic. Perhaps the legislators will look at the large-scale criminal activities related to the industry (such as the gambling ring broken in 2012 that grossed over US$1 billion) and see a market in need of regulation, but the future is far from clear.

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