Online Gambling Law in Malaysia
Online gambling is technically illegal in Malaysia. While it's clearly illegal to host an internet gambling operation, it's not clear if patronizing a gambling site is illegal. The laws on the books were written decades ago and none of them specifically mention the act of placing bets online.
For the most part, online gambling is overlooked and if not tolerated, at least brushed under the rug. Many Malaysians place bets over the internet every day. Most of the major international betting sites accept customers from Malaysia and even process deposits and withdrawals in ringgits.
However, that doesn't mean you are completely risk-free in Malaysia. There are an increasing number of calls to ban online gambling and Sharia law does hold sway in Malaysia. You have to decide for yourself if it's worthwhile. Most Malaysians who gamble online do so without a worry in the world. It's easy to get paid, make deposits, and place bets as long as you stick with the major names in gambling.
If you do decide to gamble online in Malaysia, it's best to stick with international sites NOT based in Malaysia for two reasons. First, local sites based out of Malaysia are 100% illegal and operate underground with zero regulation. You have no recourse if one of those places decides to shut down and run off with your money.
Second, offshore sites have no physical presence in Malaysia. Malaysian authorities can't just hop on a plane to England and demand that Bet365 hand over its customer information. In other words, you're less likely to be "caught" gambling when you do business with a site that operates legally in a gambling-friendly nation.
General Gambling Law in Malaysia
Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country so nearly all forms of gambling, both online and offline, are considered illegal. There are three major frameworks that dictate gaming laws in Malaysia. The most prominent of these is the Betting Act 1953.
Additionally, civil contract law in Malaysia declares that all agreements made in the form of gambling or wagering are null and void. This means any person who loses a bet to another person could refuse to pay up and the winner would have no legal recourse.
1. Betting Act 1953
The Betting Act 1953 pretty thoroughly outlaws all forms of gambling. The act even addresses telecommunications and other means of transmitting bets between customers and betting houses. The language in the act covers just about all possible loopholes you would look for in a piece of legislation written that long ago. Even to this day, there's no easy way around it.
The act specifies a penalty of up to 200,000 ringgits and 5 years in jail for anyone caught operating a betting house or patronizing one. It's unclear if today's betting sites fall under the definition of a "betting house." It could be interpreted either way.
Here's how the act defines the term betting house:
(i) any place kept or used for betting or wagering whether such betting or wagering, be in cash or on credit, on any event or contingency of or relating to any horse race or other sporting event or lottery to which the public or any class of the public has, or may have, access;
(ii) any place kept or used for habitual betting or wagering on any such event or contingency as aforesaid, whether the public has, or may have, access thereto or not; or
(iii) any place used by a bookmaker for the purpose of receiving or negotiating bets or wagers on any such event or contingency as aforesaid, whether such bets or wagers reach the bookmaker by the hand of the person placing the bet or his agent or the bookmaker's agent or through the telephone or the post or by telegram or by any other means;
The last four words in that excerpt are the most troubling for online betting. One could easily apply this law to internet gambling. The good news for gamblers is that Malaysia doesn't bother with individual gamblers. Like many countries, Malaysia instead targets those who operate or own betting operations.
2. Common Gaming Houses Act 1953
While the Betting Act 1953 was directly primarily towards sports betting and bookmaking, the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953 covers just about every other form of gambling. This act criminalizes operating a gaming house and even being caught inside one.
Any person caught inside a gaming house is subject to a fine of up to 5,000 ringgits and up to six months in prison. The Act defines gaming as:
"…the playing of any game of chance or of mixed chance and skill for money or money's worth…"
The definition of gaming houses is also explained to great length. We'll save you the boredom of reading it all and just say that it covers pretty much every possible location where people could gather and gamble. The definition of the term could conceivably be applied to gaming websites as well, but it appears that Malaysia has no interest in pursuing individual online gamblers.
3. Sharia Law
The Malaysian Constitution makes Islam the mandatory religion for all Malays, who account for over 60% of the population of the country. Non-Malays (mostly ethnic Chinese, Indian, and others) aren't bound by Sharia law, but most of the country is. This is important to note because Malaysia recognizes Sharia (or syariah) courts.
Sharia courts and the secular legal system exist side-by-side in Malaysia. There are debates to this day as to how that should continue in the future and whether or not the Malaysian legal system should be secular, religious, or both.
The dual justice system in Malaysia is complex and difficult to implement. Sharia is mostly reserved for family affairs, but individual states are allowed to implement Sharia in criminal justice matters. Gambling is clearly forbidden by Sharia law and that could also be interpreted to mean it's off limits for 60% of the country.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015
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