Malaysia allows sports betting for non-Muslims

Deputy finance minister Chor: Move to curb illegal betting and avoid losing tax revenue of over $1 billion; Islamic opposition slams decision.

Malaysia opposition rally 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Malaysia opposition rally 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia's government will allow non-Muslims to bet on international sports events in a bid to counter illegal gambling estimated to be worth billions of dollars each year.
Ascot Sports, a company linked to Malaysian tycoon Vincent Tan, has received a license to run betting on sports such as soccer, basketball, motor racing, tennis and golf, according to Tan's conglomerate Berjaya Corp., which is buying 70 percent of Ascot for 525 million ringgit ($163 million).
Gambling is a sensitive political issue in Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims comprise nearly two-thirds of the country's 28 million people. Non-Muslim minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, are allowed to purchase lotteries and bet on horse races, but betting on other sports has been illegal.
Industry officials estimate illegal sports betting in Malaysia could total 20 billion ringgit ($6.2 billion) every year, with soccer betting accounting for about 90 percent.
Deputy Finance Minister Chor Chee Heung said Thursday the government gave the approval to Ascot in order to curb illegal betting and avoid losing tax revenue estimated to be up to 4 billion ringgit ($1.2 billion) a year.
"The government all along has been hesitant to allow such activities, but then again if the government doesn't control it with a set of rules, the underground market for sports betting shall continue to thrive, like it or not," Chor told The Associated Press.
All company employees and clients involved in the betting operations must be non-Muslim, Chor said.
The service will be offered through selected outlets and by telephone for non-Muslims aged above 21, according to the Berjaya statement. The official said Ascot might seek approval to eventually offer online betting.
The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations has slammed the move, saying it was the government's responsibility to stop gambling rather than benefit from it.
Kamarulzaman Mohamed, an official with the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, said party members were planning at least two protests outside mosques following Friday afternoon prayers to urge the government to reverse its decision.