The Guangdong Club online gambling platform is humming as a stream of wagers placed in Chinese yuan flows through the portal.
The club, which lists its place of registration as Costa Rica, hosts operators offering hundreds of sessions for such popular games as baccarat and blackjack, lotteries, and sports betting—many of them in Chinese.
A single baccarat table can draw betting volumes touching 75,000 yuan ($10,500) in a 30-second game.
This is gambling with a digital twist, and it allows Chinese to bet without traveling to Macau or Las Vegas. It’s also a growing problem for China’s Communist Party, which says the transactions are draining hundreds of millions of yuan from the country.
Beijing views betting as a vice that fuels social unrest, and Chinese law prohibits gambling on the mainland—including online. But the anonymity the internet affords has Chinese bettors flocking to digital gaming halls.
They’re fueling growth in Asia’s online gambling sector, which is expected to reach $24 billion in sales this year, according to market researcher Technavio.
Beijing has begun lobbying jurisdictions that permit online gambling— including the Philippines and Cambodia—to shut down the industry, an ambition made more urgent as China’s economy slows and it grapples with an escalating trade war with the U.S.
The Guangdong Club hosts virtual casinos operating out of Cambodia as well as others licensed in the Philippines, countries where gambling sites catering to international players are permitted.
The Chinese government has tied a number of problems to online gambling, including telecommunication fraud and citizens being lured to work illegally in the Philippines.