Following is the speech by the acting Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Leo Kwan, in moving the second reading of the Gambling (Amendment) Bill 2000 in the Legislative Council today (November 22):
I move that the Gambling (Amendment) Bill 2000 be read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to combat the activities of unauthorised offshore bookmakers in Hong Kong and their receipt of bets placed from Hong Kong in order to protect the integrity of our gambling policy.
The Government's policy is not to encourage gambling but to allow controlled legal gambling outlets to exist. The rationale behind this policy is that: since there is always a demand for gambling opportunities, the Government cannot ban gambling activities altogether. However, the conduct of gambling activities has to be authorised by the Government and subject to regulation by law and the Government authorities. This is because gambling activities, if left unregulated, will give rise to various kinds of social problems and the interests of punters will not be protected.
In respect of legislation, the existing Gambling Ordinance clearly stipulates that all unauthorised gambling activities, except those of a private nature, are illegal. At present, the authorised gambling outlets in Hong Kong mainly include the horse racing organised by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Mark Six Lottery organised by the Hong Kong Lotteries Board. These legal operators are required to pay betting duty and earmark part of their revenue for charity. This policy strikes a balance between restricting gambling activities and satisfying the public demand for such activities, and is generally accepted by the public.
In recent years, however, there has been a notable increase in the activities of offshore bookmakers in Hong Kong. They provide betting-related services and promote their business in Hong Kong to induce Hong Kong people to bet with them. These include some offshore bookmaking companies and Internet gambling operators. Their activities include establishing service centres, setting up telephone service hotlines, advertising their business in the local media and even providing live coverage of unauthorised horse and dog races as well as related information such as odds, etc. regularly through some local broadcasting institutions. Through these services, Hong Kong people can open betting accounts, make betting deposits, obtain betting information and place bets with the offshore bookmakers fairly conveniently via toll-free IDD service or the Internet. These activities are against the spirit of the existing Gambling Ordinance and policy.
The Gambling Ordinance was first drafted in the 1970s. With technological advancement, especially the widespread use of telecommunications tools, the existing Ordinance is apparently inadequate in dealing with offshore bookmaking companies taking bets placed from Hong Kong, as well as providing betting service and promoting their business in Hong Kong. These unauthorised activities will gradually undermine the integrity of our gambling policy and have already given rise to growing community concern. We are concerned that more offshore bookmakers will follow suit and adopt similar modes of operation in Hong Kong if the Government does not take firm measures and make clear its position. We therefore propose to amend the Gambling Ordinance to combat such activities.
The Amendment Bill
The main proposals of the Bill are as follows -
(1) To insert an extraterritorial element into the offences of "bookmaking" and "betting with a bookmaker" to make it explicit that offshore bookmakers taking bets placed from Hong Kong and betting with such bookmakers in Hong Kong will be illegal. This amendment will apply to all offshore bookmakers and all forms of gambling activities. It will however not cover situations where both the conduct of the gambling transaction and the parties thereto are wholly outside Hong Kong;
(2) to criminalise the promotion or facilitation in Hong Kong of the above-mentioned bookmaking activities;
(3) to make it illegal to knowingly permit or suffer the use of premises for the purpose of promoting or facilitating the receipt of bets; and
(4) to prohibit the broadcast of any odds or tip in relation to any unauthorised horse or dog racing event via TV or radio within the 12-hour period preceding the conduct of that event.
In drawing up the proposal in (4) above, we are mindful of the need to strike a balance among the different policy objectives of combating unauthorised gambling activities, preserving freedom of expression and information and maintaining a liberal broadcasting and telecommunications policy. Accordingly, we have adopted a narrow and focussed approach in drafting the offence provision. Firstly, we propose to prohibit the broadcast of odds relating to horse and dog races, rather than the races themselves. This is because live coverage of odds of unauthorised races is obviously for the purpose of facilitating unlawful gambling activities. Secondly, we have confined the application of the offence to the most direct, effective and pervasive way of broadcasting information on odds, i.e. TV and radio broadcasts. We have not included the printed media in view of the fact that the printed media are less effective in instantly disseminating up-to-date information on odds. Thirdly, the provision will not apply to telecommunications facilities such as pagers and mobile phones because they are not commonly used now for disseminating information on odds. We have not included the Internet in the coverage of the provision because even if regulation was put in place, offshore bookmakers could evade the law by setting up websites outside Hong Kong over which we have no jurisdiction. Fourthly, services of non-domestic television licensees not receivable in Hong Kong will not be caught by the provision. Fifthly, free-to-air television programmes and radio broadcast transmitted from places outside Hong Kong and freely receivable in Hong Kong will also not be covered because such broadcasters are not required to be licensed or regulated by any Hong Kong authority. Lastly, we propose to exempt the broadcast of information on odds of some internationally prestigious horse races, to be specified by notice in the Gazette, from the application of the provision. These races are not regularly or frequently featured and the chance that the broadcast of such races would induce unlawful gambling activities is slim. Moreover, the Administration would not wish to see the attractiveness of Hong Kong as the regional broadcasting hub reduced as a result of a ban on the broadcast of internationally prestigious horse races by regional broadcasting institutions. We believe that this amendment, if approved, can deprive offshore bookmakers of a widely-used way to disseminate information on odds of horse and dog races and in turn reduce the attractiveness of and ease with placing bets on these races.
Let me emphasise that it is not our intention to target any single offshore gambling operation - in fact, in drafting this provision, we have considered whether the regulation of live broadcast of odds on TV and radio should be extended to all sporting events. However, we are mindful that in the absence of broadcast of odds on other sporting events at the moment, it may not be fully justified to extend the scope of the regulation to cover them. We therefore proposed to confine the scope of the provision to deal with an existing problem, i.e. the live coverage of odds of unauthorised horse and dog races on TV or radio, because live broadcast of such information is obviously for the purpose of facilitating unlawful gambling activities. We believe that this provision is proportionate and legally justified under the Bill of Rights and other relevant international conventions insofar as protecting the freedom of information and expression is concerned.
We believe that if all the above proposed legislative amendments are approved, the activities and services of offshore bookmakers in Hong Kong as well as the ease of betting with them by Hong Kong people will be significantly reduced. This will help uphold the integrity of our gambling policy, thereby protecting our betting revenue and charity donations and benefiting the Hong Kong community at large.
On the other hand, if the Bill is not supported by Members, the Government will not be able to stop offshore gambling operations from receiving bets from Hong Kong people and promoting and advertising their business in Hong Kong. We believe these offshore institutions will capitalise on the grey areas in our laws and further expand their operations in Hong Kong. This means more and more gambling activities would take place or even flourish in Hong Kong under an unregulated environment. This would result in a host of social problems and may even harm the overall interests of our community. This, I believe, is not what the general public want to see.
Madam President, with these remarks, I recommend this Bill to Members.
End/Wednesday, November 22, 2000