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Gambling establishments must have a licence to operate in Hong Kong. Gambling, such as playing mahjong, in any unlicensed establishment is unlawful under section 6 of the Gambling Ordinance, Cap. 148.
What type of punishment is given for gambling unlawfully?
The maximum penalties are as follows:
- On the first conviction, HK$10,000 fine and three months’ imprisonment;
- On second conviction, HK$20,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment;
- On third or subsequent conviction, a HK$30,000 fine and nine months’ imprisonment.
What are the restrictions for gambling at home?
There is no law against playing a game at home that involves gambling, provided it is not done as a business and no profit is gained by anyone, apart from the proceeds of winning the game.
How do I know if it is lawful to gamble in an establishment?
It is lawful to “game” in:
- A licensed restaurant;
- A place licensed to sell liquor; or
- A licensed clubhouse.
Operators of these establishments must abide by the following rules:
- No fee must be charged for admission to the premises;
- No one in charge, such as a manager, is involved in playing the game;
- The players do not play against a ‘bank’; and
- The game is not played for the private gain of any person (except the gain won by a player); a fee can be charged to players only for the hire of a set of tiles.
There are also some premises licensed by the Secretary for Home Affairs for playing mahjong or tin kau tiles. The following rules apply:
- Games can only be played between noon and midnight;
- No person under the age of 18 is allowed to play;
- No employee in the premises can make a loan for anyone to play a game; and
- A notice of fees, commissions, percentages and hire prices must be displayed on the premises.
Can I gamble on the street?
No. It is unlawful to gamble on the street. The maximum penalties are the same as those for unlawful gambling (set out above). Gambling includes gaming, betting or bookmaking. Therefore, if you play chess in a park in a way of gaming (i.e. a game of chance, or a game of chance and skill combined, or a game played among the players with a banker involved, in which the playing of the game for winnings in money or other property), it is considered to be gambling and is unlawful.
However, if there are no winnings in money or other property involved (e.g. playing poker or chess with no gambling elements), you can still play such games on the street.