Bets off on gambling in Hainan as officials tout free trade zone

The gross domestic product last year of Hainan province, slightly bigger than the size of Taiwan, was 446 billion yuan (S$89 billion).
The gross domestic product last year of Hainan province, slightly bigger than the size of Taiwan, was 446 billion yuan (S$89 billion).PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

There are no plans to allow gambling or a casino in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, officials said.

The Chinese government on Tuesday unveiled plans to develop Hainan into a pilot free trade zone (FTZ), with the aim of creating a gateway for the Pacific and the Indian oceans.

Spanning 35,400 sq km, the Hainan FTZ will be much bigger than all the others in China.

The total area is more than those of the other 11 existing FTZs combined. The other FTZs are only 120 sq km each.

The Hainan FTZ will see a significant relaxation of market access for foreign firms in sectors ranging from agriculture to healthcare.

There are also plans to make the zone an international tourism and shopping hub, as well as offer services and support for the Belt and Road Initiative, China's ambitious plan to revive ancient trading routes on land and sea.

A local official earlier refuted media reports about a planned casino on the island, best known for its tropical weather and sandy beaches. "No, there is no plan for a casino," Ms Kang Baiying, deputy director-general of Hainan's Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, told The Straits Times on Wednesday.

OUT OF THE QUESTION

It's almost impossible for Beijing to allow the building of physical casinos... Casinos (are) against the overall ideology and the rules and laws of China.

MR SU GUOJING, founder of the China Lottery Industry Salon.

Her denial followed a statement by the provincial leader that gambling or horse racing would also not be permitted on the island.

"Some online comments about opening casinos, allowing gambling and horse racing, or copy from capitalism and adopt overall private ownership, are divorced from China's reality and (they are) resolutely not allowed," Hainan community party chief Liu Cigui was quoted by the Hainan Daily as saying.

Bloomberg reported in February that China was considering allowing sports betting or a lottery in Hainan in a move that could open the door to casinos, making the province an alternative to Macau, which is currently the only place in China where casino gambling is permitted.

 
 
 

But the refusal to allow gambling did not surprise most observers.

"It's almost impossible for Beijing to allow the building of physical casinos... Casinos (are) against the overall ideology and the rules and laws of China," Mr Su Guojing, founder of the China Lottery Industry Salon and an industry veteran, told the South China Morning Post in May.

The Chinese government, instead, has a slew of alternative measures to boost growth for its southernmost province.

A notice released by the State Council said the Hainan FTZ would open up sectors such as seed production, tourism, medical care, aviation and new energy vehicle manufacturing, by aiming to "significantly relax the access to foreign capital".

The gross domestic product last year of Hainan province, slightly bigger than the size of Taiwan, was 446 billion yuan (S$89 billion). Agriculture has been the mainstay of the economy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2018, with the headline 'Bets off on gambling in Hainan as officials tout free trade zone'. Print Edition | Subscribe