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ImageAlthough the view of the European Commission will most likely be that online gambling should be legalised, and that no one should be allowed to have a monopoly on gambling purely due to a commercial interest, the approach on how to deal with online gaming has been quite different among the member states.

ImageThe online gaming industry has grown quickly in recent years with many new companies entering the market, but the industry has now entered a new phase where regulators change the playing field by starting national gaming companies or passing laws restricting offshore gaming.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, we bring you a brief history of one of China's most popular games. There are several theories regarding the origins of Mahjong and it's often said that the Chinese philosopher Confucius created the game in around 500 BC.

Although there are some indications to support this idea, the lack of physical evidence for the existence of Mahjong before 1850 suggests that Confucius probably didn't invent the game. A more reasonable theory is that Mahjong first appeared around 1850 at the earliest and was developed from Chinese Card and Domino games which had been played for centuries. It's believed that Mahjong was based on the popular Chinese card game Ma Tiao.

The earliest Mahjong sets are from the 1870s and the earliest written record of the game is from the 1890s. The identity of the inventor is unknown but it has been suggested that the game was created by Chinese army officers or noblemen from the Shanghai area.

The first contact with the West occurred in 1900 when Mahjong was introduced to the English clubs in Shanghai and by 1920, Mahjong had spread all over China and replaced chess as the most popular game.

The real breakthrough came when Joseph P. Babcock, who encountered Mahjong when he was working for an American oil company in China, translated and simplified the rules in his book Rules of Mah-Jongg in 1920 and introduced the game to the United States. He decided to use the name €˜Mah-jongg' rather than the original Chinese name €˜Mah Que' which means sparrows.

By 1922, Babcock had started to import Mahjong sets to the United States and the popularity of Mahjong grew quickly, with similar success in Britain. Bridge and chess were both extremely popular at the time in the west but Mahjong was easier to learn than bridge and many people found it to be more intricate than chess. Along with the increase in popularity there developed a large number of rule variations.

Unfortunately by the end of the 1920s, interest in the west was already diminishing. The simplification of the game along with the many different rule versions had stripped it of some of its charm and diminished the intellectual challenge.

The immense initial popularity was never regained but during the depression, interest in card and table games rose and Mahjong was revived after 1935. Since then there has been a steady interest in Mahjong around the world. In China, the home of Mahjong, the game was forbidden during the cultural revolution by the communist regime but today the governments attitude toward the game is more tolerant.

The most common form of the game is Hong Kong Mahjong which only differs from the classical Chinese version in some minor scoring details. Interestingly, the style of Mahjong differs between cultures. For example in Japan, Mahjong is strongly focused on gambling while in America, playing Mahjong is primarily a social activity.

Accordingly, there are now more than twenty different versions of Mahjong, including Japanese, Vietnamese and American variants. In America Mahjong has become especially popular in the Jewish-American community.

With the help of technology, there now seems to be a rise in interest for Mahjong. Computer versions of the game are now available, Japan has introduced Mahjong arcade machines and the popularity of the game online is evident by the number of gaming companies adding Mahjong to their offerings.

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ImageWith the premature demise of the online gaming market in the United States, gaming operators are actively seeking to expand their operations in emerging economies and a great deal of this focus has recently been directed toward Asia.

ImageWith a population of more than 140 million and a clear interest among people to put their money at stake, Russia should be a huge market for internet gambling.

ImageThanks to the success of Svenska Spel and strong interest amongst governments for online gambling, it's increasingly likely that we will see more countries launch their own governmental poker sites in 2007 .

GIQ Magazine Digital Edition