Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sarawak breaks ranks by saying no to gambling

By FMT Staff

KUCHING: Sarawak became the first Barisan Nasional state to declare its disapproval of the federal government’s move to legalise sports betting.

Chief Minister Taib Mahmud said there will be no new gaming outlets approved.

“We will not tempt or encourage people into gambling. Our focus now is to help them increase their income. We will allow the existing gaming outlets but there will be no new ones,” he said yesterday.

Taib was referring to the Finance Ministry’s decision to award Berjaya Corporation Group a licence to carry out sports betting activities.

The legalising of sports betting during the coming World Cup is expected to earn the government RM60 billion in tax revenue.

Sarawak is the third state to disallow new betting operations. Pakatan Rakyat-led Penang and Selangor have also barred the activity, using local government regulations.

Last week, two members of Taib’s cabinet had broken ranks when they openly said that gambling was wrong and detrimental to the society’s wellbeing.

Speaking to reporters after officiating at the Borneo International Conference on Language and Literature  2010 conference here, Taib said gambling had been semi-prohibited for a long time.

“We amended the laws relating to gambling 15 years ago so as not to allow new outlets to be set up.

“We do not want to encourage poverty and debts. It is sad to see families suffer as a result of addiction to gambling.

“If the state allowed gambling, it will cause more suffering not only to the gamblers but their families too,” he said.

No to telelinks, casino

To a question on Internet-based "telelink" outlets being used as betting stations, Taib said it was illegal but admitted that it was difficult to control such operations.

Sarawak has numerous shoplets known as telelinks or Number Forecast Totalisator (NFT) outlets, across the state. A majority of them, however, are illegal operations.
The regulator for NFT nationwide is Lembaga Totalisator Malaysia (LTM).

Since late last year, the state government and police have come down hard on operators using various ordinances under the Local Authorities Act to force them to shut down. Despite the efforts to contain telelinks, they continue to mushroom.

“We have directed the police to shut down these outlets, but you know Internet is difficult to control,” said Taib.

“We have also informed the federal government about such operations. We’ve told them that we don’t want to see telelink gambling in Sarawak.”

Berjaya Group had earlier this month said punters could pick up bets at retail outlets, online or via the telephone.

On rumours that a casino was scheduled for Sarawak, Taib said: “It’s a wild dream… as it is, we are not able to control crime as much as we like. With a casino, we will be encouraging bad elements and more crime and our people will be worse off.”

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