Coronavirus fears push gamblers online

The spread of the coronavirus around the world has increased calls for countries to move ahead with the legalisation of online gambling.

The virus, known as COVID-19, emerged from Wuhan in China and fears about a pandemic have hit Macau hard during the peak holiday season of the Lunar new year. A number of countries have started to recommend against travelling to certain areas and quarantine those that return in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, and as a result visitors to Macau, China’s answer to Las Vegas, is down by 70 per cent this year.

Jason Ader, managing partner at SpringOwl Asset Management and a former board member at Las Vegas Sands, explained to CNBC how the evolving situation regarding the coronavirus has already pushed thousands of people who would otherwise choose to gamble in legal casinos towards grey-area or even illegal online gambling operations, often based in the Philippines.

He said: “Daily online gambling is up 90% over the Lunar New Year holiday compared to last year…That’s an unbelievable number, and it raises the issue of should land-based operators be converging around the world with online operators. That’s really the growing trend.”

The reaction of gamblers to the virus is a wake-up call to both the industry and lawmakers in Asia and beyond to offer people safe and legal options to gamble online, as without such options they can and will look elsewhere for options without the protections or oversight of their own government.

Indeed, Macau is popular not just with Chinese tourists, but those from all over the world looking for the glitz and glamour of casinos, with the location a popular destination for visitors from both Australia and New Zealand. The city hosts the world’s largest bungee jump, which certainly attracts antipodean visitors, but once there many are also attracted to put some money on the tables, especially with the tight gambling laws they have at home.

In New Zealand, the Gambling Act 2003 puts strict limits on how people can gamble within the country, and whilst online casinos are illegal to run within the country, players are able to play games at online casinos based overseas. Casinos are not allowed to advertise at New Zealanders, but finding New Zealand online casinos is only ever a short Google search away as many international operations welcome players form the country. And with fewer New Zealanders choosing to visit Macau this years due to the coronavirus, many more will be looking online.

Meanwhile, in the US, the December 2011 statement about the Wire Act from the Department of Justice opened the doors to states legalising web-based gambling and online casinos in USA have since opened up in states such as Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey – all of which are likely to see profits from health fears about Covid-19 too.

As global tourism tumbles due to fears of a pandemic, it seems that online gambling operators are well placed to profit from people stuck at home.

Photograph by Katy Veldhorst

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