Gamblers placing bets with overseas bookmakers via the Internet could have their home computers seized under controversial amendments to the gambling ordinance which are to be pushed through the legislature next month.
A senior official also said yesterday that telecommunications companies could be asked to help track down online offshore gambling.
The Government will decide whether to legalise gambling on football matches after the World Cup, depending on how well the amendments stop illicit soccer betting, according to Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Stephen Fisher.
Mr Fisher, speaking on RTHK, defended the bill, saying offshore gambling had seriously hit the Government's tax revenue from betting. He admitted it would be difficult to police Internet gambling, but said: 'We do not necessarily have to monitor all Internet deals.
'If we find that someone regularly makes calls to an overseas destination and we find that it is a gambling company, we may ask the telephone company to help.'
He did not rule out the possibility of police raiding a gambler's home to arrest the person and seize the computer if there was substantive evidence.
Under the proposed amendments, anyone in Hong Kong who places a bet with a bookmaker outside Hong Kong will be guilty of a criminal offence.
It will also be a criminal offence for bookmakers to receive bets from the SAR, irrespective of whether the bookmakers are based in Hong Kong or overseas.
Maximum penalties include a $5 million fine and seven years' jail. Bookmakers who had accepted bets would be arrested once they entered Hong Kong, Mr Fisher said.
Legislators doubt Internet gambling can be properly policed. Democrat Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said: 'I cannot imagine that any overseas police agency would help Hong Kong collect evidence to prove that an SAR resident had placed a bet with a gambling company there.'