Malaysia legalises sports betting

Mainly Muslim Malaysia has legalised sports betting, a move supporters claim will curb illegal gambling and boost government coffers.

A general view of Sepang International Circuit during the recent 2010 Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix on April 4, 2010. Mainly Muslim Malaysia has legalised sports betting, the company acquiring the new licence said Thursday, saying it would curb illegal gambling and boost government coffers.

Ascot SpoLegalises sports bettingrts, a company controlled by influential tycoon Vincent Tan, has been granted a licence that will allow it to offer odds in time for the hugely popular English Premier League season.

“Ascot Sports has been re-issued the sports betting licence by the Ministry of Finance which was first issued in 1987,” gaming group Berjaya — of which Tan is a major shareholder — said in a statement late Wednesday.

Berjaya, a conglomerate with holdings ranging from lottery to casino operations, will acquire a 70 percent stake in Ascot Sports by paying Tan 525 million ringgit (164 million dollars).

The 1987 permit was quickly rescinded and an attempt to revive it several years ago failed because of opposition to gambling, which is forbidden in Islam.

Berjaya said that legalising sports betting will curb illegal bookmaking and bring huge revenues to the government.

“By some estimates, the illegal sports betting market in Malaysia is thought to be as much as 20 billion ringgit per annum,” it said.

“This represents a tremendous loss of tax revenue to the Government which Ascot Sports hopes to be able to mitigate.”

The company will launch products based on internationally popular sporting events including football, basketball, motor racing, tennis and golf.

“Ascot Sports will also offer telephone betting convenience and only adults above 21 years old and non-Muslims will be allowed to open a telephone betting account,” Berjaya said.

Malaysia’s conservative Islamic party is among the groups that have criticised plans to award the sports gambling licence, which they fear could promote betting and increase debt.

Its youth wing will hold a protest outside a mosque on Friday in the capital Kuala Lumpur after afternoon prayers.

“There will be a big demonstration. We oppose the government’s decision to award the sports gambling licence. We want the government to cancel the licence,” Kamarulzaman Mohamad, secretary of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) youth wing, told AFP.

Hatta Ramli, PAS treasurer said: “It is a social and religious sin to gamble. We cannot accept it. It will break up families and attract the young into this vice activity.”

N. Marimuthu, president of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association, said the government should seek other ways to raise revenue.

“There are better ways to generate income for the nation. I do not believe we have to resort to legalising sports gambling,” he said.

Government officials have said they plan to channel the revenue generated from legalising betting into sports development, but that the move will not eradicate match-fixing which has long blighted football in Asia.

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