Following is the full text of the speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr David Lan, at the joint luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club King's Park Hong Kong, Rotary Club Mid-level and Rotary Club Peninsula South today (Thursday):
President Ho, President Lo, President Ng, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to attend the Joint Luncheon Meeting of the RC King's Park Hong Kong, RC Mid-level and RC Peninsula South today.
Gambling, especially some unauthorized gambling activities, has recently become one of the issues of concern in Hong Kong. Today, I would like to take this opportunity to explain Government's policy in this area.
Gambling has always been a controversial issue. While quite a number of people regard gambling as a socializing or pastime activity, we also see in the newspapers from time to time tragedies of individuals and families resulting from over-indulgence in gambling . Thus, the Government has to balance the needs of the gambling public against the views of those who vigorously oppose gambling and of different organisations and various sectors of the community.
It is therefore Government's policy not to encourage gambling but to allow legal gambling outlets to exist. Such outlets include horse racing organized by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the Mark Six Lottery and mahjong parlours licensed by the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority. This policy balances the needs of the gambling public against the views of those who oppose gambling. Moreover, the existence of legal gambling outlets has effectively contained illegal activities such as illegal off-course betting and 'tse fa'. This policy has been in force for a long time and is widely accepted by the community.
Under the Gambling Ordinance (Cap148) formulated according to this policy, all unauthorised gambling activities are illegal. I would like to make it clear that the Government has no intention at present to open more legal gambling outlets. In a recent survey commissioned by the Home Affairs Bureau , more than 90% of the 1 500 respondents considered that the existing legal gambling outlets were adequate. Only 14% of the respondents approved of opening casinos in Hong Kong , 14% approved of gambling activities on the Internet and 29% approved of betting on sports. It has been suggested that the Government should consider opening casinos and legalizing football betting. From a policy point of view and in the light of public opinions, we have no intention to introduce such new forms of gambling.
Illegal Gambling Activities
As I have just mentioned, there are signs that unauthorised gambling activities have made their way into Hong Kong and are now operating in different modes in recent years. For example, some overseas gambling institutions are promoting their business in Hong Kong through operating so-called "service centres" which accept betting through IDD. Payment to and from the punters are effected through the bank. There are also gambling web sites on the Internet and casino vessels departing from Hong Kong to the high seas. All these are providing gambling opportunities for our community. The Government is well aware of these activities and has been discussing with the relevant Departments to see whether these activities are breaching our laws. The Police will gather evidence and take firm enforcement action where necessary. The Police's raids on the service centres operated by the Macau Jockey Club in Hong Kong and the arrests made early this month are cases in point.
The illegal gambling activities mentioned above are not only posing a challenge to the community and Government policy but also affecting the turnovers of legal gambling activities, such as horse racing and Mark Six Lottery, thus reducing the betting duty payable to Government. For example, betting duty in 1997/98 amounted to $12.4 billion, representing 4.5% of Government's revenue. If the revenue from betting duty is reduced as a result of illegal gambling, neither the public coffers nor the community as a whole will benefit.
The major legal gambling outlets in Hong Kong, i.e. horse racing organised by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Mark Six Lottery conducted by the Hong Kong Lotteries Board, are run by non-profit- making non-commercial institutions. The revenue from legal gambling activities is one of the main sources of subsidy for charity organisations, service groups and educational institutions. Take Mark Six Lottery as an example: 15% of the proceeds will be allocated to the Lotteries Fund for various social services. As for horse racing, apart from the betting duty payable under the Betting Duty Ordinance, the Hong Kong Jockey Club will also donate part of its revenue to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust which gives a donation of around $1 billion every year to subsidize charity organisations and community projects. In 1998-99, for instance, the Trust subsidised a total of 146 charity projects in the areas of community services, medical and health services, educational training as well as culture, recreation and sports. Illegal gambling activities operating in Hong Kong are all run by profit-making commercial establishments which do not pay any betting duty for its income from betting and bear none of the abovementioned social responsibilities. If the public turns to them for betting, it will directly affect the amount of betting duty and donation from the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Mark Six Lottery. Of course, it will be the community as well as the various social services and charity organisations which will suffer as a result.
Therefore, I would like to urge the public not to participate in such unauthorised gambling activities. The purpose of my appeal is, apart from upholding the existing policy and ensuring Government revenue and subsidy for charity organisations, to remind you that anyone who bets on these kinds of activities may contravene Section 8 "betting with a bookmaker" of the Gambling Ordinance, and may, on conviction, be liable to a maximum fine of $30,000 and imprisonment for 9 months, so please don't take the risk of breaking the law.
Review of Legislation
The Government will continue to take firm action against illegal gambling activities and will, at the same time, review existing laws to see if amendments are necessary. In fact, when the Gambling Ordinance was enacted in the 1970s, there were no gambling activities in Hong Kong which were operated by foreign gambling establishments; there were also no casino vessels and no Internet gambling then. While the spirit of the above Ordinance is still applicable now, it is necessary for the Government to carefully review the Ordinance and have it updated, strengthened and improved so as to meet the current needs. Therefore, discussions are now being held between the Home Affairs Bureau and other Bureaux and Departments concerned. Specific proposals will be made and announced in due course.
I hope the above has made clear the Government's policy on gambling and its determination to combat illegal gambling activities. As gambling is an issue of great concern to the public, we would welcome any views and suggestions from the public on this matter.
End/Thursday, March 25, 1999