SCMP Saturday, October 6, 2001

Split verdict on soccer gambling


More than 6,000 submissions have been received by the Government on a proposal to legalise soccer gambling, with the community sharply divided on the issue as a three-month consultation period ended yesterday.
Secretary for Home Affairs Lam Woon-kwong said the Government would study the views thoroughly before making a decision by the end of the year.
Yesterday, the Great Coalition to Oppose Legalisation of Soccer Betting handed in 62,000 signatures it had collected to the Home Affairs Bureau's office in Wan Chai. A bureau spokeswoman said the signatures would be counted as one submission.
Choi Chi-sum, a core member of the alliance covering 49 education, social welfare and religious groups, demanded the Government scrap the proposal indefinitely.
Mr Choi, who is also general secretary of the Christian lobby group Society for Truth and Light, said various opinion polls showed strong public opposition to legalising soccer betting.
"There is no sign that there is huge support for soccer gambling," he said. "The Government's claim that more than 300,000 people have participated in soccer gambling is a mere exaggeration."
Ken Ng, of the Alliance for Authorised Soccer Betting, claimed the "silent majority" supported legal soccer betting.
"The reality is that there are many people in Hong Kong betting on football through the many illegal bookmakers week in and week out," said Mr Ng, who is vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association.
"If we do not regulate it, triad members will take full advantage."
Major political parties are divided on the issue.
Democrat Cheng Kar-foo said the Government should not go ahead with the plan just because it could bring in more revenue.
"In Britain, the United States and Australia, the governments had to bring in remedial measures on adverse social consequences such as pathological gambling in the end," Mr Cheng said.
He said some legislators in the US were now drafting legislation to make soccer gambling illegal.
The Liberal Party believed the idea could be explored further, saying it would be better to impose controls on soccer gambling rather than leaving it illegal.
A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance showed that of 2,940 respondents, those who supported the idea fell from 44.3 per cent in March to 41.1 per cent in September. Those against increased from 39 per cent to 47.2 per cent.
The vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, Ip Kwok-him, said the party was still against legalisation.