Americans know well how gambling laws— like most laws— can vary from state to state, with most forms of gambling being legal only in Nevada (and in Atlantic City, New Jersey), as well as there being lotteries in nearly every state. It is the same in Malaysia, which also has a federal form of government.

Only four forms of gambling are legally permitted in Malaysia— casino games, horse track betting, lotteries, and slot machines. Arcades with electronic horse race betting were once also found in Malaysia, but they were banned in 2000. And only one legal land- based casino exists in the country— the Casino de Genting, which is part of the Genting Highlands resort, located outside Kuala Lumpur. It was established in 1965, two years after the modern Federation of Malaysia was formed. Online casinos are also illegal, and there are laws prohibiting the operators of Internet cafes from letting their customers access such sites, and banks from authorizing transfers from them. In practice, however, such laws are poorly enforced. There are also many underground casinos throughout the country.

The Malaysian Common Gaming Houses Act was passed in 1953, during British rule. Among other things, it prohibits one from “permitting a place of which he is owner or occupier or of which he has the use temporarily or otherwise to be kept or used by another person as a common gaming house; (c) has the care or management of or in any manner assists in the management of a place kept or used as a common gaming.” The penalty was “a fine of not less than five thousand ringgit and not more than fifty thousand ringgit and shall also be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years and in addition shall be liable to a fine of not less than five thousand ringgit and not more than fifty thousand ringgit for every gaming machine seized;” this penalty was modified in 1990.

The majority of Malaysians are Muslims, whose religion opposes gambling. (Islam is also the state religion, though there is freedom of religion.) There is, however, a significant Chinese minority in the country— largely Taoist or Buddhist— and they have been angered by raids on Internet cafes that target non-Muslims.