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05 June 2010

Pakatan wagers image against sports-betting


Pakatan Rakyat is gambling on its anti-sports betting stand to burnish its credentials — especially among the Malay electorate — ahead of the next general election, which may come as early as next year.

They are also hoping for enough Chinese support in their campaign against further expansion of the gambling industry, already saturated with numbers gaming and horse-race betting.

Although the recent Hulu Selangor and Sibu by-elections saw a shift in Chinese support towards Pakatan Rakyat (PR), despite Barisan Nasional (BN) doling out the usual goodies like cash handouts and infrastructure development, Malay voters have mostly remained in favour of the ruling coalition.

“I think there is general support for our position,” Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong

“Many Muslims are against betting. Women especially are against betting... as it eats into the family household income,” he added.

Analysts say the value of the Malaysian sports-betting industry is estimated to be as much as RM8 billion.

Since the BN government awarded a sports-betting licence to Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s Ascot Sports Sdn Bhd last month, DAP has gone on a crusade against them, accusing the ruling coalition of enriching the tycoon but impoverishing the people.

PR has also formed an Anti-Gambling Movement (GMJ) that is planning to launch a campaign against sports-betting today, followed by a series of road shows throughout the nation and the delivery of memoranda to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, MPs, and the prime minister, that will culminate in a demonstration of “100,000 Citizens Protest Sports Gambling” on July 3.

DAP Socialist Youth head Anthony Loke said although the Chinese community was split on this issue, the electorate generally opposed the legalisation of the sports-betting industry.

“There are segments in the Chinese community who will support (our opposition to sports betting),” said Loke. “But there are probably some who believe it should be legalised. About Indians, like the Chinese, some will agree while some will not. Malays, looking at it from a religious point of view, they will probably not support it (legalising sports betting).”

“By and large, I think it will be negative,” said Loke when asked how people have generally reacted to the BN legalising sports betting.

PR state governments like Selangor and Penang have already banned sports-betting in their states despite a warning from Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung that such a move was illegal and could result in legal action against the states.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has directed both the Penang and Seberang Prai Municipal Councils to bar sports-betting under Section 101(v) of the Local Government Act, adding that he was prepared to go to court for his actions.

Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim pointed out that although the federal government had issued a football-betting licence, the state government’s local authorities have the power to stop it as Ascot Sports must apply for a licence from local authorities to operate.

The Selangor government has also decided not to allow the use of state-owned premises for gambling activities upon expiry of their licenses.

“I think it has given us a boost,” said Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar in reference to PR’s polemic against legalised sports betting. “They (the Chinese community) have been very receptive.”

Nurul added that the women’s wings of PR were planning to expand the level of understanding among the Malay and Chinese communities on the social and economic impact of legalised sports-betting, to gain more traction on this issue.

PAS treasurer Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli said that Muslims especially support PR’s campaign against legalised sports-betting, pointing out that even Umno leaders have not dared to counter them openly.

“As far as Malays are concerned, we have gained some credibility,” said Hatta. “Even though others are not saying anything, their silence indicates support.”

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, a member of the PAS central working committee, said that despite a lackadaisical attitude towards legalised sports-betting among the urban and the impoverished electorate, PR’s stand is a “plus point for Pakatan” as it creates a positive image of the coalition.

“I can tell you safely that Malays are quite unanimous against it (legalised sports-betting)... but I think the Chinese are quite split,” he said.

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