Malaysia’s government reverses decision to let non-Muslims bet on sports after criticism

By Sean Yoong, AP
Friday, June 25, 2010

Malaysia nixes sports betting for non-Muslims

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s government scrapped a plan to let non-Muslims bet on international sports, bowing to public criticism that it would promote gambling.

Prime Minister Najib Razak announced authorities have revoked their approval for Ascot Sports, a company linked to Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, to run betting on sports.

“After taking all opinions into account, it is clear to the government that a large part of society does not agree that a betting license should be given to Ascot Sports,” Najib said late Friday after chairing a meeting of his ethnic Malay Muslim ruling party.

Gambling is a sensitive political issue in Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims comprise nearly two-thirds of the country’s 28 million people. Non-Muslim minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, are allowed to purchase lotteries, visit the country’s sole casino and wager on horse races, but other betting is illegal.

Tan’s conglomerate announced in May that Ascot would soon start accepting bets from non-Muslims on soccer, basketball, motor racing, tennis, golf and other key international sports events, as part of the government’s efforts to combat illegal gambling estimated to total billions of dollars each year.

But the plan drew criticism from opposition parties and many Muslim nongovernment groups, which insisted it would increase social problems such as illegal money lending and gambling debts.

Najib said Ascot has been informed of the government’s decision and understood the reasons for it. Ascot representatives could not immediately be contacted Saturday.

No compensation would be paid to Ascot, because the government had only approved the plan in principle and had the right to cancel it, Najib added.

Officials estimate football accounts for about 90 percent of illegal sports betting in Malaysia. Authorities have arrested more than 120 suspects since the start of the World Cup in recent weeks for taking illegal football bets worth 300 million ringgit ($90 million).

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