PAS today urged the Council of Rulers to intervene against the federal government decision to issue a sports betting licence.
After handing a protest memorandum to the keeper of the rulers’ seal Engku Ibrahim Engku Ngah (above, middle) at his office at the Istana Negara today, PAS vice-president Mahfuz Omar said the move to legalise such gambling would be detrimental for the youths.
"Football clubs and their players are idolised by youth, so we are afraid that this will hurt the young," he said.He also said that the government's argument that regulated sports betting operations would curb illegal betting was unreasonable.
Mahfuz who is also Pokok Sena MP, said further that the government's assertion that regulating sports betting operations would curb illegal betting - currently estimated to amount to up to RM20 billion in bets - was unreasonable.
“(The police) recently announced that they have set up a special team to identify and eliminate illegal betting syndicates, which signify that these activities occur even if sports betting is legalised.“So now police will go to those who engage in illegal betting and tell them, ‘You want to gamble? Go to Sports Toto outlets,’" suggested Mahfuz in reference to the Ascot Holding-owned operators of around 680 sports betting outlets.
"(It is) as if they (the police) are working for (Berjaya Group chief) Vincent Tan,” he added. The sports betting licence was been awarded to Ascot Holding, a subsidiary of the Berjaya Group, on May 11 this year.
Speaking on the role of the rulers in the matter, Mahfuz noted that they had stepped in previously in the 1960s against the government-run “charity lotteries”, which eventually came to an end in the 1980s. “The former Perlis ruler (Tengku Syed Putra Syed Hassan Jamalullail) was a strong critic of the lottery.
"We hope his son (Tengku Syed Sirajuddin) will take a similar stance,” he said.
The PAS parliamentarians said they hope Tengku Syed Sirajuddin, who is due to chair a council of rulers' meeting on June 26, will convene the event earlier in order to discuss the issue. Mahfuz also criticised the government's failure to hold public consultations on the matter, and wondered aloud whether this was because there were elements of corruption involved.
“Maybe this why it is difficult for him (Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak) to listen to the public outcry on the matter,” he said.According to Mahfuz, a study by Maybank Securities estimated that about RM1.7 billion is spent daily on legal and illegal gambling beside legalised sports betting.
“So including sports betting, we can expect about RM60 billion spent on gambling in the one month of the (Fifa) World Cup (in South Africa),” he said.He said that PAS will also bring their grievances to the National Fatwa Council, while Johor PAS Youth will submit a memorandum to the Johor mufti tomorrow.
Last Friday, PAS organised demonstrations in Penang, Perak, Selangor, Terengganu and Negeri Sembilan against the issuance of the betting licence to Berjaya.
The following day, PAS Youth announced plans to hold this week another demonstration in Selangor and a series of protests in Kelantan, Malacca, Pahang, Perlis ahead of a mammoth rally in Kuala Lumpur on July 3. PAS Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan (left) said the wing hoped to submit a memorandum to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, urging his intervention in the matter.
The movement against sport betting also garnered support from former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who has urged the government to review the decision to award the licences.
Weighing in on the issue, the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim) last week sent a memorandum to all muftis calling for them to register their protest with the government and urge for the license issued to Berjaya to be revoked.
In a statement issued yesterday, the group said legalising sports betting is akin to covering up the government’s failure to control an illegal activity.
"Abim is certain that the act of legalising - that is, recognising as legal a thing that is haram (such as gambling) and that cannot be controlled by law enforcers while demand for it has increased in the black market - will not solve the problem," said Abim president Muhd Razak Idris.
"To the contraray, it will only give recognition to something that is illegal merely because of our failure to control it," he added.
While callling for the Home Ministry, the police, local authorities and state religious departments to intensify efforts to combat betting operations during the Fifa World Cup, Razak also called for Muslims to stay away from all gambling activities due to their harmful effects on families, society and the economy.