Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is home to an ethnographically complex population that currently stands at around 32.9 million people. The country’s religious composition is equally diverse, although Islam is the official religion, with approximately 61% of the nationals practicing it. Apart from Muslims, Malay society consists of Sri Lankan, Chinese, and Indian Malaysians, among other minority groups.
The country is a federal constitutional monarchy that comprises 13 states, known as Negeri, along with three federal territories, or Wilayah Persekutuan (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, and Labuan). The history of this culturally diverse country can be traced back to the 3rd century AD when the first Malay kingdoms emerged. The British Empire established a solid presence in the region in the early 18th century. It was not until the late 1950s that the country fully regained its independence.
Gambling law is a complex matter in Malaysia as is the case in other multi-ethnic nations. The complexity largely arises from the fact the Islamic Sharia law strictly prohibits gambling. Malaysia’s Muslim population cannot legally enter gaming venues or engage in such activities. Despite this, gambling has gained social acceptance in the country, or at least among non-Muslim Malaysians.
Brick-and-mortar gambling is legal in Malaysia, but Resorts World Genting remains the only casino resort complex for the time being. Malaysia has several turf clubs and racecourses whose history dates back to the late 19th century. Landbased sports wagering also enjoys a legal status here as long as the bookmakers have acquired proper licenses. All forms of online gambling are still illegal in the country. The prohibition extends to all Malaysian nationals regardless of their religious beliefs.
Laws That Govern Gambling in Malaysia
Several laws have helped shape Malaysia’s gambling industry as we know it today. The first and probably the most important piece of legislation that governs gambling activities in the country is the 1953 Betting Act (Akta Pertaruhan). It has seen several amendments over the years but its original purpose was to eliminate illegal betting houses and prevent betting in public places.
Religious Laws Applying to Malays
A substantial percentage of Malaysia’s population is Muslim and as such must adhere to the principles of the Sharia law. The country recognizes Sharia courts that coexist with secular ones. Sharia is a set of moral codes derived from the Islamic religion and applicable to all Malays.
Residents who belong to other ethnic groups (eg. Indian and Chinese Malaysians) are known as non-Malays. They do not have to comply with the Sharia religious principles as the civil laws on gambling apply to them. The Sharia law prohibits gambling (maysir), decrying it as immoral and harmful (which it is in some cases).
Sharia disallows participation in such activities because they enable the individual to potentially accumulate wealth from chance rather than from engaging in productive activities. Islamic religious texts like the Quran refer to gambling as a serious sin, denouncing chance-based games as abhorrent creations of Satan.
Muslim Malays who gamble or harbor money obtained from gambling are liable for punishment under the Sharia court system. Malaysian states have the remit to enforce the Sharia law under Part 9 of the country’s Federal Constitution. The secular court cannot interfere with matters within the jurisdiction of the religious court, and vice versa.
As you probably know, gambling businesses usually give back a portion of their proceeds for charity and social causes like education, scholarships, and infrastructure improvement. However, Muslim charities in Malaysia will never receive donations from gambling operators as they deem such money unclean.
Social Responsibility and Problem Gambling
Licensed betting operators in Malaysia must follow various social responsibility policies in line with the local laws on gambling. They must not allow underaged individuals on the betting premises. Locals can legally engage in gambling provided they meet the minimum age requirement, which is 21 years old.
Online Gambling in Malaysia
The Betting Act and the Common Gaming Houses Act contain no explicit references to online gambling, which is understandable considering both date back to the early 1950s. Malay lawmakers have not yet introduced any relevant amendments to the legislation to tackle remote gambling, either.
2Offshore Gambling Sites
With this in mind, we should point out the country lacks a licensing regime for such activities. Malay authorities issue no licenses for remote betting at the moment of writing, so locals often turn to offshore operators to satiate their appetites for online gambling. Some of the largest online casinos and sportsbooks are happy to accept customers from the country. Such operators allow locals to manage their accounts in Malay and conduct payments in Malaysian ringgits (MYR).
3Blocking of Gambling-Related Transactions
The Malaysian government does its best to obstruct access to foreign gambling sites. The authorities achieve this by instructing local financial institutions to sanction the transactions to offshore gambling operators. On top of that, police forces carry out regular raids on online gambling syndicates that operate illegally from within the country.
4Raids on Illegal Online Gambling Syndicates
The authorities have busted many illicit operations over the years, arresting the individuals behind them and seizing equipment like laptops, modems, and routers. One of the most recent raids occurred in Johor where police officers crippled an illegal operation with over 7,000 customers who cumulatively spent around RM2.4 million within four months only.
5Restricting Access to Unauthorized Domains
Restricting access to unauthorized domains is another approach Malay authorities commonly adopt to curb illegal online gambling. As of March 2021, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) blocked over 2,190 domains that promoted remote betting activities. The authorities rarely bring a prosecution against members of the general public who engage in offshore online gambling, however.
The future of the gambling industry in Malaysia is far from clear amidst ongoing debates on whether the country should liberalize its market or not. Unfortunately, this is no easy topic to bring up for discussion. Much of the controversy has to do with Malaysia’s dual legislative system where religious and secular courts coexist. The main question here is whether Malay legislation should mirror a religious or a secular standpoint.
The absence of a regulatory framework for online gambling does little to prevent locals from using the services of offshore casinos and sportsbooks. Furthermore, they can do so without the fear of prosecution. The country’s government primarily targets illegal operators rather than pursuing individual gamblers. Perhaps Malaysia’s legislature will recognize the necessity of introducing proper online regulations in the future, especially considering the massive scale of illegal activities related to remote gambling.