ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Public protest on legalising Malaysian betting
Public opinion remains split, but Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing objections not just from the opposition but also within his own ruling party, Channel News Asia reports.
The fiery protest from the opposition Islamic party and Muslim NGOs did not come as a surprise.
This came after news that Malaysian Chinese tycoon Vincent Tan was reportedly issued a licence to operate sports betting in some of his lottery outlets across the country.
Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, has one casino resort and several lottery companies, and some Muslim NGOs said that is sufficient.
Ibrahim Ali, MP of Pasir Mas, said: "It just creates a gambling culture in this country. It creates a lot of social problems because a lot of people are involved in this activity. They become lazy and really rely on this kind of thing, I think it's not good for the country."
Ibrahim Ali heads Perkasa, one of Malaysia's largest Muslim NGOs. He also feels that non-Muslims should not indulge in gambling, which is "haram" or forbidden in Islam.
Under pressure from within and outside his own ruling party UMNO, Prime Minister Najib is reconsidering the whole issue of sports betting.
Billions of dollars were said to have changed hands in each World Cup season through illegal bookies who could be operating from anywhere in the world.
Authorities here said there is no way they can effectively curb illegal betting without legalising it, which at least allows them to better regulate the activities and save the government millions of dollars in tax revenues that could otherwise be lost.
The three opposition controlled states have said they will ban sports betting if it is legalised. They said giving out more gaming licences is not the way to raise money.
Lim Guan Eng, Chief Minister of Penang, said: "It's a question of enforcement. If you have proper enforcement, you can regulate it. We are not talking about banning gambling, we are talking about reducing the increasing prevalence of gambling."
Public reaction is mixed.
"At least the government can get some money out of it," one said.
"As a Muslim, how can you legalise something (that) is illegal," another added.
While the debate continues, it is business as usual for many Malaysian sports fans who continue to place their bets regardless of whether it is legal or not.