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Kevin Smith

Hong Kong Approves Soccer Betting

11 July 2003

Hong Kong lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that allows residents to wager on soccer matches.

Supporters of the policy, which passed on a 30-24 vote, say it will boost tax revenues and curb illegal bookmaking.

Opponents, however, are concerned that it will increase the number of problem gamblers in Hong Kong and encourage local youth to bet on soccer matches.

"Society will pay a heavy price," warned Cheng Kar-foo, an opposition lawmaker who voted against the bill.

Various education groups and Christian organizations, meanwhile, spent the days leading up to the vote protesting the policy.

Raising their palms heavenwards, a group of Christians gathered outside the Legislative Council building Wednesday morning, urging lawmakers to strike down the bill. "The government is our parent: Don't harm the citizens, your children," one placard read.

Home Affairs Secretary Patrick Ho said the bill will give Hong Kong gamblers a legal alternative, alleviating a problem with outlawed bookmakers that had been "worsening rapidly."

The Hong Kong Jockey Club has long contended that the rise of illegal bookmakers has cut into its yearly turnover. The club will be the official bookmaker under the new bill.

The government estimates that punters bet over $10 billion a year on football through small-time bookies, who are often connected to organized crime. Officials expect $3.85 billion a year will be spent by punters on legal betting with more than $192 million likely to go into government coffers.

Others feel those figures are too low and predict that the government could easy bring in more than $600 million for the Hong Kong budget.

Even with a massive influx of tax revenue from soccer bets, legislators still face a massive budget shortfall. The fiscal year that ended in March of this year saw the Hong Kong deficit reach record amounts of $7.8 billion. That amount represents 5.5 percent of the gross domestic product for Hong Kong.

The government was able to push through the bill after winning last-minute support from some independent legislators.

The gambling bill was so controversial that Hong Kong's leading democratic party aligned itself with the biggest pro-China party in efforts to defeat the bill in the legislature.

In a rare move, Hong Kong's main democratic party and its biggest pro-China party joined forces to oppose the bill. The two parties have been at odds since the government proposed an anti-subversion bill.

The clincher in getting the bill passed was support from a handful of independent legislators during the final days of debate.

Audrey Eu, a prominent lawyer and independent legislator, was one of those who threw his support behind the bill.

He told the Associated Press that he had to vote for the bill despite the efforts of Christian groups lobbying against it.

"I feel laws are not meant to govern moral standards," he said. "The law is to prevent real criminal acts. Gambling is not a criminal act and many people are capable of controlling themselves."

The Jockey Club is the biggest taxpayer in Hong Kong and the biggest contributor to charity. The group operates horseracing and the Mark Six lotteries, previously the only two legal forms of gambling in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Approves Soccer Betting is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith