With spending on official sports lotteries of 14 billion yuan (HK$13.16 billion) last year, China has approved betting on the 2002 World Cup finals in an effort to capitalise on the national interest in soccer and stop illegal gambling.
The China Sports Daily yesterday quoted Sun Jinfang, director of the Sports Lottery Management Centre under the National Sports Bureau, as saying it would organise betting on the finals to be held in Japan and South Korea from May 31 to June 30.
The tickets will cost between 10 and 60 yuan (HK$9.40 and HK$56.40) and go on sale from May 8 at the bureau's offices across China, with a top prize of two million yuan, the maximum allowed by the Ministry of Finance.
The bureau has paid US$50,000 (HK$389,000) to Fifa, the world governing body of football, for the right to use World Cup emblems on the tickets.
With China taking part in the World Cup for the first time, interest in the competition is intense.
The Government has discovered that it can raise hundreds of millions of yuan from gambling, which was banned by authorities until lotteries were approved in the 1990s.
There are now four sports lotteries per week, as well as betting on games in the Italian and English soccer leagues, with total sales of 14 billion yuan last year.
Mr Sun said that since the soccer gambling started last October with an initial issue of 21 million yuan in tickets, the weekly issue had risen to an average of more than 200 million.
As of April 1, the total income from soccer gambling reached 3.75 billion yuan, of which 1.87 billion was given as prizes and 1.24 billion used for public projects.
Some scholars oppose the Government's plan to promote gambling, saying that it is in effect a transfer of wealth from poor and middle-income people, the main buyers of the tickets, to the state.