Euro 2012 once again uncovers a dark side of spectator sports
ILLEGAL gambling has followed football fiestas, such as the current European championships, as surely as night follows day. Big bookie busts can be expected up to the finals on July 1. Once again, newspaper readers will be regaled by reports of betting syndicates with connections all over the region and beyond, raking in unbelievable amounts of money. And once again, society will be confronted with a problem. From time immemorial, this particular human weakness has presented lawmakers with an ethical versus economic dilemma. Most religions prohibit gambling. When addiction is factored in, the misery inflicted on innocent families solidifies the moral argument against any sort of wagering. In Judaism, for example, gamblers are denounced as disreputable and disqualified as witnesses.
Israel, however, allows gambling. In Malaysia, as in many other countries, some forms of it that can be tightly controlled are permitted. These enterprises garner huge margins of profit, and do in fact generate revenue for the country in the form of taxation and tourist earnings. This is what caused Singapore's moral high ground to collapse and integrated casinos to be introduced. Jakarta, under its governor, Ali Sadikin, legalised gambling in 1967 under tightly controlled conditions so that some of the money made flowed into municipal coffers and locals did not get hooked. Within 10 years, Jakarta's development fund grew tenfold enabling him to build schools, medical centres, roads and markets. However, despite the greater good, to religious leaders it cannot overcome the fact that the gains were accrued from a sinful act.
The recent arrest of two Singaporeans for illegal betting is a reminder yet again of how lucrative gambling can be when it is driven underground. A multi-billion ringgit activity such as this cannot but give the treasury huge revenues if legalised. Nevertheless, is it something that can be sanitised from all the possible social ills that might surface as a result? The Internet, while actually increasing the returns to gambling and thus possible government revenues, has made the problem even more complex in terms of control. The conundrum then for any government is to weigh the possibility of more money for the public purse against the difficulty of eliminating the negatives. Legalising means more funds for development at the risk of social ills. Control to ensure optimal revenue collection and non-addiction of locals, therefore, is fundamental. Meanwhile, the rationale for maintaining the status quo is obvious: the crime pays so well that criminals are more than willing to risk it. Therefore, laws and their enforcement should be adequate to the task of stopping the crime.