Sun, Jul 04, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Football craze enriches Hong Kong's bookies

DPA , HONG KONG

An underground bookmaker has boasted of making US$250 million from Hong Kong gamblers during the Euro 2004 soccer tournament, a news report said yesterday.

The unnamed head of the off-shore soccer betting syndicate said he had taken an average of nearly US$11 million a day through the three-week tournament. "Illegal bookies are laughing all the way to the bank," he told the South China Morning Post, predicting a last-minute rush of bets on Sunday's final by punters trying to recoup losses of some of the tournament's favorites.

Soccer betting was legalized only last year in Hong Kong to try to clamp down on the flood of money going to illegal bookmakers.

Legal betting can only take place through the official Jockey Club which places a heavy duty on bets, offers limited betting options and closes its betting centres before midnight.

Illegal bookmakers have made a killing by offering better odds and taking bets right up to kick-off in the matches, most of which start at 2:45am Hong Kong time.

Five illegal bookmakers were arrested by police last week and betting slips worth US$360,000 seized in one operation.

The Jockey Club admits it is losing out heavily to illegal syndicates and has appealed to the government to ease the betting tax to help it to compete.

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