Uncontrollable Illegal Gambling?

Illegal offshore or interest gambling and soccer betting have, in recent years, become issues of great concern to the Hong Kong Government (“HKSAR”), the Hong Kong Jockey Club (“HKJC”), the pressure groups (“PG”) and the general public, as HKJC has estimated that it has lost, and will continue to lose, about HK$50 billion a year to high-tech and illegal bookmakers. This is, in fact, a very serious problem and can affect the future prosperity of Hong Kong, as HKJC, the largest single source of tax revenue, contributed about HK$12 billion (or about 11.3% of HKSAR’s recurrent tax revenue) to HKSAR coffers last year. The current betting tax is 14% and the betting duty represents about 4.5% of HKSAR’s total revenue.



Unlike in many advanced and democratic Countries, gambling has always been a controversial issue in Hong Kong. While many people regard gambling as a socializing or pastime activity, some people may gamble all their moneys away, as one can see from newspapers from time to time tragedies of individuals and families resulting from over-indulgence in betting. As such, HKSAR has to balance the needs of the gambling public against the views of those who vigorously oppose any kind of betting; and of various sectors of the community, such as the PG, the teachers’ and social workers’ unions who have recently voiced strong opposition to legalizing football betting and have accused HKSAR short-sighted and unwise. Is it really so?



As we all know, HKJC, which is the biggest charity donor and is also one of HKSAR’s largest tax payers, has made great contributions to higher education (donated more than HK$5.1 billion over the past 50 years, in addition to another HK$4 billion to eight UGC-funded institutions and The Open University), in addition to various charitable and community activities in the fields of sports, recreation and culture, medicine and health vocational training and social services. HKJC also donates part of its revenue to its Charities Trust which in turn gives a donation of around HK$1 billion every year to subsidize charitable organizations and community projects, for which over 75% of our population are benefited one way or the other. At the moment, there are two legal gambling outlets in Hong Kong, i.e. horse racing organized by HKJC and the mark six lottery conducted by the Hong Kong Lotteries Board, both of them are non-profit making organizations. Illegal gambling activities operating in Hong Kong are all run by profit-making commercial establishments which do not pay any betting duty and do not bear the above-mentioned social responsibilities. If the revenue from betting is reduced as a result of illegal gambling, the public coffers and the community as a whole will no doubt suffer. Do we really want to see this happen?



The protest by the students in Central recently, which was organized by the Teachers’ Union, against HKSAR’s hint on legalizing football betting is understandable, but if one has to make a decision on the issue, having regard to the loss of revenue, the difficulty or impossibility to curb illegal football gambling, the social responsibilities, the freedom of choice to gamble (unlike smoking, gambling by itself does not affect other people’s rights) and the fact that betting on one of the teams to win adds excitement to the game etc., one would agree to legalize soccer betting in Hong Kong. As HKJC has all necessary facilities and has been World-recognized as one of the best gambling and charitable organizations, HKJC is therefore an ideal establishment for handling soccer betting, so that HKSAR can see more money rolling back into the public coffers in the near future.



The Gambling Ordinance (“GO”) has now been in existence for over 24 years and is incapable of preventing or deterring illegal offshore or internet gambling activities in Hong Kong. Indeed, as there are too many loopholes under our existing laws, illegal offshore or internet gambling is almost uncontrollable by HKSAR at the moment. It is, therefore, necessary to amend GO and other relevant legislation as quickly as possible, in order to combat illegal offshore or internet betting activities in Hong Kong. If one looks at our history, one will notice that GO was enacted in 1977 to legalize, inter alia, “Tse Fa (字花), Hung Piu (紅票) and Po Pui (鋪票), as at the time, “Tse Fa” was so common that the then Government was simply unable to stop various illegal bookmakings which existed in almost every street corner. Unless positive and speedy action is taken by HKSAR, history may re-occur not on “Tse Fa”” but on football betting. Should we do something about it now, before it is too late?



All in all, one must now seriously consider, under the current depressive economy, to legalize soccer betting and to amend GO and other relevant ordinances in order to stop, once and for all, illegal offshore or internet gambling activities in Hong Kong, so that HKSAR will have more money to spend on the needy people or on the community as a whole.



George YC Mok

Senior Partner

George YC Mok & Co

Copyright © GYC Mok 2000



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