Decisions Awaited in Hong Kong

4 July 2001
New gambling policy is up for discussion in Hong Kong as citizens and lawmakers enter a three-month window in which to review a recently released government report.

At issue is whether to make soccer betting legal, and if so, whether to put it in the hands of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, according to Rob Deans, a solicitor with Bird & Bird in Hong Kong.

The newly released Gambling Review Consultation Paper examines what it calls the "growing problem of soccer betting," possible ways to solve the problem, potential arguments for and against the legalization of soccer betting and a possible operational framework that calls for a single, non-profit betting operator.

The report notes a huge increase in the number of bets seized by police in 2000 as opposed to those seized in 1998, a World Cup tournament year; extensive coverage of tips and odds for soccer betting in Hong Kong newspapers; and the proliferation of sports bars showing overseas soccer matches.

Deans said there are three stages to the review of the paper. Right now is stage one. A working party has put forth a consultation paper that has been published and on which the public may comment until Sept. 21, 2001. Based on citizens' submissions, the Home Affairs Bureau will decide whether it will introduce a bill.

If a bill is introduced, it is read aloud in Legco, Hong Kong's legislative council. After the first reading a committee is formed to scrutinize the bill. If the committee recommends approval, it's read again and debated. After a third reading, council members vote on whether it becomes law.

As for the timing, Deans said the government would like to address the issue of soccer betting before the next World Cup takes place in June 2002 in Japan and South Korea. In 1998's tournament, there was reportedly heavy betting, Deans said.

Hong Kong's long-held approach to gambling is that it should be authorized and regulated by the government to limit the number of gambling outlets and prevent people from turning to illegal operators.

Deans said that historically all sorts of gambling have been illegal in Hong Kong. In the 1970s the government took the view that there was too much horse betting and allowed the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a non-profit organization, to handle all wagering on horse races.

The consideration of the legalization of soccer betting seems to follow in the same vein. Deans said the issue was introduced as a reaction to underground betting and the amount of revenue being lost to the government because of it.

Public opinion, he said, is divided into two schools. The "moral high ground," consisting of churches and schools, and the "pragmatists," who believe that if you can't prevent gambling it's better to regulate it and collect the revenue.

Anne Lindner can be reached at