Football gambling ready for kick-off
Mark O'Neill in Beijing
Soccer betting will start today in 12 major cities and provinces and it looks set to take China by storm, riding the wave of the national team's success in reaching the World Cup for the first time and the popular passion for gambling.
Punters in Beijing, Shanghai and 10 other cities will be able to bet on the results of 13 games to be played next weekend in the Italian and English leagues, with each ticket costing two yuan (HK$1.88).
The sports lottery management centre, which is in charge of the pools, organised a trial run from October 10-13.
It sold 170,000 tickets on the first day in Shanghai, the Workers Daily said yesterday, and on October 15, it announced the first 166 winners.
Newspapers have started to print detailed analyses of the 13 games on the betting list, with team news and betting tips.
Management centre officials said they planned to include Chinese games in the future, but that the domestic league was too young yet.
'We lack experience and have a great deal of preparation work to do,' said one. 'The English and Italian leagues have a long history of gambling and are a model for us.'
Another reason is that the Chinese soccer league, which began in March, is nearing its end. More than two months of the season were cancelled to allow the players to concentrate on the qualifying matches for the World Cup. The authorities also fear gambling could lead to match-fixing in the domestic league.
China is aiming to imitate the success of the football lottery in Italy, where about 30 million people gamble each week. It also wants the lottery to curb widespread illegal gambling.
People expect the football pools to quickly outstrip the only two other legal forms of betting in China - the sports lottery and the welfare lottery - because of the popularity of soccer.
But some academics oppose the lotteries. 'The keenest gamblers are the poor and unemployed, for whom this is the only way to become rich,' historian Wang Guoqiang said. 'Their chances of winning are extremely low. The result will be to widen the gap between poor and rich. It is a way for the state to take money from the poor.'