Why is Gambling illegal in SE Asia?

Gambling may have been around for centuries, especially in SE Asia; yet, it is countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand whose governments have vacillated over whether they should legalise the gambling industry.  It is widely acknowledged that the same countries where gambling practices are illegal, also suffer from booming underground and unregulated gambling networks both offline and online with companies like M88; their citizens willing to risk possible arrest and a prison sentence in order to sate their hunger for games of chance – and the possibility (no matter how remote) to win big. 

So why is gambling illegal in SE Asia?

Opposition to legalising gambling is two-fold.  Firstly, in many of these countries moral and ethical justification for banning gambling practice is paramount – and not without good cause.  With their citizens displaying an insatiable desire to gamble, even if it means losing their homes, jobs and families; it is clear that gambling addiction is a tangible socio-economic issue.  Governments have felt obligated to protect their citizens from themselves, recognising an unsettling lack of self-restraint when it comes to placing a bet, or two, or ten.  Studies have shown that a gambling addiction can lead to poverty, homelessness, turning to criminal activities, and developing substance abuse problems if left uncurtailed.  For many SE Asian countries, the importance of the family unit is at the forefront of their society; however, the link between gambling and the destruction of family life is hard to ignore when you factor in the repercussions of addictive gambling.

Secondly, in some SE Asian countries, like Indonesia, there is a growing Muslim population.  Religious believes are playing their part in blocking the legalisation of gambling, with Islamic law specifically prohibiting gambling in any form even with companies like M88.  As the level of Islamic influence rises in Asia, so does the political pressure to maintain a ban on gambling. 

But there is a price being paid for banning gambling.  Workarounds include using illegal gaming dens, with increased exposure to the criminal underworld and police corruption; the rise of unethical loan sharks, and the potential funnelling of money into illicit activities – not to mention the fact that locals are prepared to pay to travel to casinos just over their border in order to get their daily fix, which surely contributes even more to their gambling-induced poverty. 

From an economic perspective, legalising gambling is hugely appealing since we’re talking about massive revenues available from taxing the industry.  Making gambling illegal has appeared to do nothing to curb the amount of money that changes hands – but only ensures that those hands are not those of the government.  No doubt the debate will wage on, but how long will it take before monetary greed will win over moral sensibility?