Legalize gambling, Peking University professor suggests

AGENCIES , BEIJING

Thu, Jul 20, 2006 - Page 5

A Chinese academic has called for legalizing gambling to cash in on some of the 700 billion yuan (US$87.5 billion) lost through illegal channels each year, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"The market is there and gambling is part of human nature," Xinhua quoted Wang Xuehong (王學紅), head of the China Center for Lottery Studies at Peking University, as saying in an overnight report.

"If the choice of legalized products is too limited the majority will be forced underground," she said.

China banned gambling after the Communists swept to power in 1949. State-sanctioned lotteries operate, but legal gambling revenues are dwarfed by black market takings, Xinhua said.

Illegal gambling in China mainly involves Internet betting, underground casinos and private lotteries, according to Wang.

If just some of these gambling categories were legalized, Chinese government coffers could benefit immensely, she argued.

China's lotteries reaped 70 billion yuan in 2005, while 600 billion yuan was bet overseas -- equal to the annual revenue of the country's tourism industry, Xinhua said.

This year's soccer World Cup finals highlighted China's gambling fervor, with daily reports of police cracking multimillion dollar gambling rings.

Earlier in the month, police in the southwestern province of Sichuan brought down a billion yuan online betting syndicate involving thousands of registered users across the country, the Beijing News reported.

In a previous media report, Liu Yifeng (劉義豐), a lawmaker, told state media that sentences for gambling should be made harsher to deter crime.