Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Hong Kong places its bets on soccer games for first time


Gamblers in Hong Kong placed their first legal wagers on soccer yesterday as the territory kicked off a new betting operation intended to raise tax revenues and squeeze out illegal bookmakers.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club's chairman, Ronald Arculli, was first in line as he made two wagers of HK$50 (US$6.40) each on a draw between Bayern Munich and Frankfurt.

Arculli tried to brush aside concerns -- voiced by religious and youth groups -- that soccer betting will lead to social ills in Hong Kong, which is full of keen gamblers who previously had been able to wager legally only on horse races and a numbers-game lottery.

"Soccer betting is a healthy pursuit, provided you take it as a form of entertainment," Arculli told reporters as the betting got under way at noon. He placed one bet on any draw in the Bayern Munich-Frankfurt match, at odds of 4.6-1, and another bet on a 2-2 draw, carrying odds of 27-1.

Officials predict a booming trade, with wagers of HK$30 billion (US$3.8 billion) projected in the first year.

Jockey Club spokesman Li Tak-nang said more than 10,000 people have applied since last week for new accounts to place soccer bets by telephone and over the Internet. The nonprofit Jockey Club also operates the horse races and lottery and gives its proceeds to public causes.

The government says the legal betting is intended to boost tax revenues and make business hard for illegal bookmakers.

With gambling options limited at home, many Hong Kong people frequently head off to nearby Macau where casinos are the backbone of the economy.

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