At least we know now that the Government is aware of the wider issues involved with betting tax and Internet gambling. A rare official discussion of the subject came at the weekend from Lam Woon-kwong, the Secretary for Home Affairs, as he outlined the purpose of the Gambling Ordinance Amendment Bill. It was clear the Government's main priority remained the closing of loopholes associated with overseas betting companies - including the Macau Jockey Club - accepting bets in Hong Kong. But Lam also touched on the burning issues of global Internet betting and whether the Jockey Club should be taxed on profits rather than turnover. It was a step in the right direction, but whether the Government is prepared to move quickly enough on these matters is still open to considerable doubt. Lam made it clear that issues such as soccer betting would not be considered during the Bill's passage through Legco, and it is obvious the Government is concerned first and foremost with closing the betting loopholes. The bigger picture, it seems, can wait. But things are moving faster than the Government's policy makers. Much faster. Current Government thinking seems to be based on the assumption that punters have a fixed amount of disposable income for gambling. If the loopholes are closed, the logic appears to be, this income will pour into the Jockey Club's coffers. But that is only true up to a point. The gambling market of the 21st century is much more complex than the Government appears to believe, and so too are the issues involved with global betting. The huge growth in online gambling is based in no small part on the multiplicity of opportunities it offers. Betting on horse racing may be the bedrock of the overseas assault on Hong Kong, but online casinos and sports betting have attracted new punters - women, a younger age profile - and it is by no means certain that they would switch to more conventional forms of gambling if they were to be denied access via the Internet. And that assumes Internet gambling can be stopped by legislation. Britain is one country where the issue has been much better researched than Hong Kong, and the Gaming Board, the gambling regulatory body in Britain, concluded in a report to the Government: 'Superficially, the simplest way to attempt to prevent such gambling would be by making it illegal for persons to gamble on the Internet, including from their own homes. But the Board does not believe such legislation would be either desirable or enforceable. It would be unlikely to command widespread acceptance or support and could only be enforced by time-consuming and unattractive investigations in which enforcement authorities would have to gain access to homes.' Those who believe Internet gambling can be prevented no doubt took heart from the news that HSBC is preventing its credit card customers from placing bets online, but the move appears to have more to do with bad debts than any legal or moral misgivings by the bank. And there are, as Lam acknowledged, civil liberty issues involved in preventing access to the Internet. It will be difficult to convince law-abiding people they are doing anything wrong by placing a bet via the Internet with a company abroad which has an impeccable business background and is licensed by another Government. To equate Internet betting with illegal bookmakers is an impossible case to argue. That is why the Government needs to ensure the Club is a player in the game rather than a mere bystander. Closing loopholes is one thing; opening up new opportunities is a much more crucial issue. It is essential, for instance, that the Club is allowed to accept bets on soccer. It is naive to think that sports bettors would place their money on horse racing instead if forced to - the Club, and the Government, need to be able to tap into both markets if their revenue is to be protected in the long term. Lam said the Government has not yet formed a position on football betting, and nor it seems has the Club, but they had better do so - and fast. Wouldn't it be nice if Hong Kong punters could bet here on next year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea? Plenty will want to, and plenty will via the Internet, whatever the Government does to try to stop them. And, as proposed in this column a few weeks ago, under-18s need to be accepted at the racecourse. Young people are the next generation of gamblers, and the Club needs to be able to attract them to its product rather than lose them to the counter-attractions of the Internet. The recent survey by Internet measurement firm NetValue showed it is teenagers and gamblers who are visiting gambling Web sites the most. Forty-six per cent of those identified by NetValue as 'cyber gamblers' were between the ages of 15 and 24, with another 2.6 per cent under 15. Above all, of course, is the urgent need for a profits tax on the Club to replace the current tax on turnover. The Government may be preoccupied by the overseas market, but it should be focusing on the real issues on its own doorstep.