NPC deputy joins soccer betting lobby

An alliance between Hong Kong soccer bosses and a National People's Congress deputy was announced yesterday to rally support for legalised football betting.

'We hear voices opposing soccer gambling almost every day, but in fact they come from a handful of people,' said Martin Hong Po-kui, chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association.

'There are in fact many people who support it, but we rarely hear their voices.

'We hope to collect more supporters' opinions and to let the Government hear our voices.'

The new group - the Alliance for Authorised Soccer Betting - will collect signatures from supporters through the Internet and over the telephone while the government consultation exercise on the issue continues.

Wai Kee-shun, convenor of the alliance, said legalised soccer gambling would bring in valuable government revenue and could nurture more sports talent.

'We support legalising soccer gambling because there are so many Hong Kong people betting on it through foreign bookmakers. We should consider legalising it so that it can be done under regulation,' he said, adding this would prevent money from draining away into the pockets of overseas bookmakers.

Asked if soccer gambling would damage moral standards, as its critics claim, Mr Wai replied: 'Morals are a standard generally accepted by contemporary society. It is not an ideal established by a few people . . . and it evolves with time.

'Considering soccer gambling is widespread in society and accepted by many Hong Kong people, legalising it is totally acceptable.'

Allen Lee Peng-fei, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress and former Liberal Party legislator, pointed out that Japan and Singapore had already legalised soccer betting and it had not had a detrimental effect on youngsters.

'I don't believe the youth will become bad after the legalising of soccer gambling' he said.

'And I don't believe that those two governments overlooked youngsters when they introduced soccer gambling.'

He said politicians inside Legco and the District Councils had failed to support soccer gambling because they feared losing votes.

'So I urge the Government to make the final decision. Legalising soccer betting will bring in revenue for the Government and for the sport sector [which can be used] to nurture talent. Remember, the Beijing Olympics are only seven years away,' Mr Lee said.

Wong Hak-lim, of the Great Coalition to Oppose Legislation of Soccer Gambling, rejected the claim that youngsters would not be affected.

'It is the sport that most youngsters play,' Mr Wong said.

'We managed to collect more than 2,000 signatures opposing soccer gambling in just seven hours at the Star Ferry Pier on Sunday.

'The results of the survey show everything.'

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the Democrats in Kwai Fong and Kwai Hing found 38 per cent of 1,777 people interviewed supported legalisation of soccer betting and 62 per cent were against it.