|Hong Kong lawmakers commenced the last debate on legalising soccer gambling yesterday, a move aimed at bringing the government billions of dollars in much-needed revenue. If the Bill is passed, Hong Kong would join Macau, Singapore and mainland China as the few places in Asia where some form of betting on football is allowed.|
Other Asian governments eager for fresh revenue are likely to closely monitor the scheme.
Opposed to the bill are Christian groups who held a mass prayer meeting demonstrating against ‘corruption of the young’.
‘The government is our parent: don't harm the citizens, your children,’ a placard read, offering a rare and valuable insight on the psychology of anti-gambling campaigners.
In a rare move, Hong Kong's main democratic party and its biggest pro-China party are set to join forces to oppose the Bill. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latter also backs strict ‘anti-subversion’ legislation also pending.
But Ms Audrey Eu, a prominent lawyer and independent legislator, said: 'I feel laws are not meant to govern moral standards. The law is to prevent real criminal acts. Gambling is not a criminal act and many people are capable of controlling themselves.'
The government estimates that punters bet more than US$10 billion (S$17.7 billion) a year on football through small-time bookies, who are often connected to organised crime.
It expects HK$30 billion (S$6.8 billion) a year to be spent by punters on legal betting, with more than HK$1 billion going into its coffers.
Some sources said that this figure was conservative, and predicted the government's haul could easily reach HK$5 billion a year.
Most of the football bets placed in Hong Kong involve putting money on top British or European matches, often shown live on local cable television.
If the Bill is passed, the operating licence will go to Hong Kong's Jockey Club, which controls horse-racing and Mark Six lotteries - currently the only two legal forms of gambling in Hong Kong.