|Macau gambling magnate Stanley Ho has heavily criticized the SAR government after the Legislative Council passed an amendment outlawing all offshore gambling. The law comes into effect on May 31, the beginning of the soccer World Cup finals, which would have been a big payday for bookies like Ho’s Sociedade de Jogos de Macau.|
Ho said of the decision: ``A big organisation [the SAR government] is now bullying a small one.”
Under the law, customers who bet with unauthorised gambling operators based inside or outside the territory, via the Internet or other technologies, will be committing a criminal offence. Bettors who violate the law face a maximum fine of $3,846 (HK$30,000) and nine months jail, while bookmakers, overseas or local, face a maximum fine of $641,076 (HK$5 million) and a seven-year jail term.
Secretary for Home Affairs Lam Woon-kwong said the amendment would plug the loopholes in the law. The amended ordinance also bans advertising of phone or Internet betting, makes it illegal for banks and credit card centres to knowingly facilitate illegal betting, and broadcasting of tips or bets 12 hours ahead of overseas events.
Spokespeople for three subsidiaries of Ho's gambling operations- the Macau Jockey Club, Macau Slot and Macau Dog - all also condemned the new law. ``It will seriously threaten our survival. It'll also adversely affect the Macau economy,'' a spokesman for the Macau Jockey Club said.
He said the club expected a 30% fall in business because 70% of the bets it received came by telephone and the Internet. He said Macau should not be treated as offshore area because, like Hong Kong, it was part of China.
Some lawmakers were equally unimpressed: Cyd Ho of the Frontier asked if authorities would begin policing Internet use, and asked offshore bookmakers could be prosecuted.
Lam said that the government would not conduct real-time Internet monitoring and records from Internet service providers would only be asked for on court orders. Monitoring offshore Internet gambling would not fall under the police’s remit, Lam said.
Despite the law, a new survey says that a significant proportion of people in Hong Kong still intend to place illegal bets on World Cup games, mostly on the Internet. The survey, by market research firm NFO WorldGroup, says that 12% of 835 Hong Kong residents surveyed said they were planning to defy current laws and bet on the World Cup.