The border between Macau and the mainland is one of the world's busiest. The reason is simple: Gambling on all but the two state-run lotteries is illegal on the Chinese mainland, so millions of its people each year go to the special administrative region to try to beat the odds at the casinos and horse- and dog-racing tracks. Macau is not the only beneficiary. Hong Kong, Singapore, North Korea and the world's big casino complexes have in recent years welcomed the more than 600 billion yuan mainland Chinese are estimated to spend annually gambling overseas. The amount is 15 times the amount bet on the mainland's welfare and sport lotteries. Gambling was outlawed by the Communist Party with the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, and illegal betting remains one of the few crimes punishable by death. Little wonder, then, that Putonghua is such a commonly heard language in the crowded gaming rooms of Macau's casinos. But the immoral behaviour and social instability China's officials claim gambling causes is certainly not apparent on the streets of Macau, nor in Hong Kong, home to the world's most successful horse-racing industry. Hong Kong's example would seem to imply quite the opposite. Not only is law and order maintained here to a standard few in the region can match, but the benefits of the Hong Kong Jockey Club's social welfare and charity programmes have made our society immeasurably better than it would otherwise have been. Such benefits may be why the mainland's only gambling research organisation, Peking University's China Centre for Lottery Studies, this week announced a master's degree course in lottery management. This development hopefully signals a change in attitude towards gambling. It is an activity inherent to human nature. Sociologists have been unable to determine whether it stems from genetics or environment, but one certainty is that where there are people, there are a majority willing to take a chance at beating the odds for money in a variety of ways. Mainlanders' growing affluence has also increased their desire to gamble. With tightly restricted horse racing, a sports lottery and variations on Mark Six the only legal choices, gambling through the internet and the activities of criminal gangs are flourishing. Crackdowns by the police have had little effect. Peking University's course will give students the chance to examine the way the gambling industry operates around the world and the social problems associated with it. Their research should pave the way forward for the industry in China. Nothing can stop people gambling, and the Chinese authorities should take advantage of that fact by making more forms of betting available. As in Hong Kong, revenue should then be directed at much-needed social welfare projects.