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Despite the very real possibility of incurring the wrath of its mighty neighbour, China, Laos, one of the few remaining avowedly communist nations in the world, is all set to open up as a major base for offshore gambling in South East Asia.
Hitherto, Laos has perhaps been best known as a former French colony, and, tragically, as the most heavily bombed nation on earth.
Trapped in its own bloody civil war, amid the wider conflagration of the Vietnam War, between 1964 and 1973 Laos was blitzed by 270 million bombs dropped on the hapless country by the United States — more than the total ordinance dropped by all adversaries in World War Two.
Now, inspired by the regional example of The Philippines, Laos has decided to let its three Special Economic (Free Trade) Zones house digital iGaming hubs.
Based on the Filipino Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) model, the sites and licensees will not be able to service customers in Laos proper but will target regional markets.
Officially, at least, the massive potential market of its superpower neighbour China remains off the grid, yet something of “an elephant in the room”.
China’s hardline Communist rulers have attempted to quarantine the “vice” of gambling to their entrepôt of Macau, and they retain a near pathological mistrust, if not hatred, of online gaming.
They have consistently warned regional nations that they are prepared to take tough action against any with the temerity to host sites targeting Chinese citizen punters.
The Philippines, with its strong ties to the USA and relatively diverse economy, has been better placed to shrug off the China government threats.
But little Laos, population 7.27 million, which shares a 313-mile (505kms) land border with the Peoples’ Republic, is much more susceptible to pressure.
Unsurprisingly, Laotian officials to date have steered away from mentioning the potentially-massive China online market.
Instead, offshore gambling boosters in Laos talk glowingly about cracking the Thailand market.
It’s reported, furthermore, that the three main frontrunners to receive master offshore gaming licences are all based in Thailand.
Although rules, regulations, taxes, the number of licences on offer have not yet been set, the Laotian government has already established the Laos Offshore Gaming Authority (LOGA) to oversee the new industry.
A high-level gaming insider and consultant, Danny Too, General Manager of a company called Cherry Interactive, who has close ties with Laotian authorities, confirms the project is well underway and will be launched “within a couple of months, later this Summer.”
“[The Laotian government] have seen how profitable other countries like The Philippines have been with online gambling. So they said that this is actually a very good proposition,” said Too.
Until now in Laos there has been a blanket ban on all forms of online gaming, although retail gambling for foreigners only has been allowed at traditional casinos operating within the Special Economic Zones.
Soon-to-be-legal for the world beyond Laos, but still illegal within Laos, it remains to be seen if Laos’ unlikely offshore wager will hold — and for how long they can escape the ire of China.