In an attempt to cut down on the increasing problem of illegal gambling (and to add a little extra revenue to government coffers), Malaysia has legalized sports betting. Previously, only horse races could be wagered on, and only at certain tracks. Now, punters will be free to bet on sports in Malaysia – as long as they are not Muslim.
Sports betting in the country was legalized briefly in 1987, but the experiment quickly failed due to pressure from the local Muslim community. All forms of gambling are forbidden by Muslim law.
The first (and perhaps the only) sports betting license has been issued to Ascot Sports by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance, giving the group the right to offer fixed odds betting just in time for the English Premier League season. Berjaya, a Malaysian firm with holdings in local lottery and casino operations, will soon acquire a 70% stake in Ascot Sports at a cost of 525 million ringgit ($164 million).
Ascot will not yet be offering internet betting in Malaysia. Most of their services will be land-based, with an added option that will allow punters to place bets over the phone. The product will cover local sports as well as major international leagues in football, basketball, motor racing, tennis and golf.
Local Muslims are not in favor of the move. “There will be a big demonstration,” said Kamarulzaman Mohamad, secretary of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) youth wing. “We oppose the government’s decision to award the sports gambling licence. We want the government to cancel the licence.”
The government has said it will direct revenues created by the legalized sports betting into the nation’s sports industry.