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HK lawmakers kick soccer betting into play
( 2003-07-11 11:19) (China Daily HK Edition)

Soccer betting won't be facing any penalties after lawmakers kicked it into lawful play in Hong Kong Thursday. But it was a tense "match" in the Legislative Council Thursday as the third reading was netted by a narrowed margin of 30-24 compared with 33-25 for the second reading on Thursday.

They voted in favour of the passage of amendments to the Betting Duty Ordinance.

The government will grant a five-year franchise to the Hong Kong Jockey Club as the only authorized soccer betting operator so that it can receive soccer bets as early as August.

The government projects that the betting will net some HK$1.5 billion (US$192 million) a year in extra tax revenue.

Acknowledging the concerns of critics, officials said some of the cash will go to raising public awareness about the social ills that can be caused by gambling addiction.

In order not to mix up soccer with its racing and charity businesses, the jockey club will set up a subsidiary to handle soccer betting operations.

Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho expressed relief after the law was passed yesterday, particularly because all the amendments moved by the government were adopted.

To gain support from legislators, the government agreed to a number of amendments to the original bill after hearing views during the bills committee stage.

For example, public education programmes will be launched to warn people not to be addicted to gambling and there will be education at school level. Two counselling services centres will be opened in October for rehabilitation of pathological gamblers.

But the home affairs secretary objected to an amendment by The Frontier's Cyd Ho, who sought to delay the effective date of the law to January 1, 2004, to ensure counselling services are in place.

He was also against "democrat" Andrew Cheng's amendment, which asked the jockey club to list all the betting formats in the ordinance. He felt that would weaken the flexibility and competitiveness of the operator. Both members' amendments were vetoed.

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