Malaysia is a country in South East Asia with 32.37 million inhabitants. Malaysia was granted independence from the British Empire on 23 June 1963. The predominant religion in Malaysia is Islam (61.3%). Christianity (9.2%), Buddhism (19.8%), and Hinduism (6.3%) are the next three. Malaysia is multi-ethnic, with Malay accounting for 63% and Chinese accounting for approximately 25%. Those with Indian ancestry make up 12%. These latter groups are likelier to gamble legally and spend more money on gambling.2,3
“Gambling disorder” is a category that sits alongside DSM-5’s more traditional addictions. ICD-11 replaces the ICD-10 term “pathological gambling” with “gambling disorder.”
Gambling in Malaysia
In Malaysia, gambling is a common practice. Both legal and illegal gambling is popular in Malaysia.4 However, some forms of gambling, such as horse racing, lotteries, and casino games, are legal. Online gambling and all forms of betting at bookmakers are illegal. Gambling can only be legal if the authorities have issued an authorization or license, the Unit Kawalan Perjudian of the Ministry of Finance. Lotteries are permitted in Malaysia under the Lotteries Act 1952. Six legal lotteries are currently operating in Malaysia (all privately owned). There are also several illegal lottery businesses. It was estimated that Malaysia’s illegal lottery business earned 60 percent more in 2018 than the six legal ones combined.
Malaysia has one land-based legal casino. This casino, which is privately owned, was established in the 1970s in a very Las Vegas-style setting. It is open 24 hours a day and denies entry to Muslims or those under 21. The casino features over 400 electronic table games, 3000 slot machines, and 30 tables that offer games like blackjack, tai-sai, and roulette.
The British introduced horse racing in Malaysia during the 1800s. There are currently three racecourses. Horse betting is legal. The Racing Act 1961 regulates all three racecourses.
Online gambling is legal, but it has grown in popularity in Malaysia over the last few years. Online gambling is very popular. Online gambling has become easier and more affordable thanks to technological advances. Even though they are illegal, international betting sites accept Malaysian customers and process withdrawals and deposits in ringgits (RM), the Malaysian currency.
Malaysian gambling laws
Three major legal frameworks govern gambling laws in Malaysia: The Betting Act 1953 (with several amendments), the Common Gaming Houses Act 53 (with many more), and Shariah law. With several modifications, the Betting Act of 1953 is the most important.7 It prohibits any form of gambling unless a company has a license to operate. This Act punishes anyone caught operating a betting house or involved with RM200,000. Fine and five years imprisonment.
With further amendments, the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953 is more comprehensive than the Betting Act in terms of its coverage of different types of gambling. The Common Gaming Houses Act defines 7 Gaming as: “The playing of any game or combination of chance and skill for money” or money’s worth. The Finance Minister of Malaysia announced increased penalties for illegal gamblers and gambling operators in the 2020 budget plan. The maximum penalty for unlawful gambling was raised 20-fold to RM5000 and RM100,000. A minimum sentence of six months in jail was also introduced.
Malaysia recognizes Sharia law (or Syariah), courts, and Islam as the dominant religion. Non-Malays, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indian, are not bound by Sharia but by the secular legal system. The Sharia law prohibits all forms of gambling.
Gambling research in Malaysia
Malaysian gambling research has been very limited.
Tan and colleagues3 examined data from 6117 non-Muslim households to determine the socio-demographic factors influencing gambling participation and spending. The socio-demographic characteristics that were associated with higher gambling expenditure included:
- Being younger.
- Having lower education and higher incomes.
- Being from paternal-headed families.
Two hundred people visited the only Online Casino Malaysia. They were asked about their gambling habits and the factors that contributed to them.9 Marketing activities like positioning, winnings, and promotions predicted more gambling behavior, while psychological variables such as motivation, personality, and cognition did not.
Loo & Ang10 examined the prevalence of problem gambling within Malaysia’s largest state, Selangor (a population of 5.6 million), and found that 4.4% were problem gamblers, and 10.2% were moderate-risk gamblers.
Loft & Loo11 examined the sleep difficulties, sleep habits, arousability, and problem-gambling severity of 59 treatment-seeking gambling addicts. They found that self-regulatory ability was a mediator between problem gambling behavior and sleep difficulty.
Sheela and colleagues12 examined 2265 Malaysian teenagers. They found that about 30% of them gambled over 12 months. Adolescent gambling was also closely linked to parental gambling, high-risk behaviors, and male gambling.
Gamblers can be treated in Malaysia through treatment services.
Malaysia’s public sector does not have any structured gambling treatment programs. Private rehabilitation centers provide residential and outpatient treatment for problem gamblers. Online access to Gamblers Anonymous (GA) is possible, but there are no GA meetings in Malaysia. We know that private psychiatric hospitals and addiction specialists offer individual psychotherapies (mostly cognitive-behavioral therapy) for problem gamblers and supportive psychotherapy for their families.
According to anecdotes, most people suffering from gambling-related issues go untreated and are not recognized. Problems are often only discovered when they become severe or when the gambler is brought to the attention of the legal system for a gambling debt, bankruptcy, and financial fraud.
Gambling in Malaysia, an Islamic country, presents many difficulties not present in other secular nations. Malaysia has a unique dual system of law. There are Syariah courts that follow Sharia law and secular laws that allow gambling.
The first is a larger debate about whether gambling should be banned in Malaysia or whether it should be allowed to be legalized in certain forms and closely regulated. This debate must involve many stakeholders, including policymakers, academics, healthcare professionals, and the gambling industry. Online gambling needs to be included in existing legislation. Second, more needs to be done to minimize gambling-related harm. It might be best to start with public health approaches such as awareness-raising campaigns about various aspects of gambling, its potential for damage, signs, and symptoms, how to seek help, and banning and enforcement thereof of gambling advertisements and promotions (in both print and online media) and the increasing in-counter-advertising whereby this type of advertisement focuses on certain issues, persons or products to take a stand against other promotions in regards to controversial topics. Third, the public sector must expand treatment services for Malaysia’s problem gambling addicts and their families. Gambling is an illegal activity that is prohibited by Sharia law in Malaysia. It is best to be viewed as a mental problem with negative public health consequences. Health policymakers and healthcare service providers must collaborate to offer psychological and psychiatric services in the community and hospitals. Addiction rehabilitation centers should be included in this program. Fourth, further research is needed to determine the prevalence of problem gambling and gambling-related harms. We believe that the development of a national strategy for gambling and the oversight of an independent body will help to make the above suggestions a reality.