Its social impact is too great to ignore and will increase once online gambling is legalized
Malaysian anti-gambling activists protest during a campaign to ban all forms of gambling in the country at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur July 3, 2010. (Photo: AFP)
Regulating the gambling industry in Malaysia can be complicated. The country’s dual legal system has an age-old law that allows gambling with some restrictions, while Sharia law prohibits it and declares gambling tax revenue impure.
Clean or unclean, the government has been collecting taxes from gambling operations since British rule. In 2019, gambling taxes shot up to a sizable $1 billion.
The license, however, is limited to lotteries, horse racing and a casino. The three horse racing courses are the Penang, Perak and Selangor Turf clubs, while the only legal land-based casino is located in the Genting Highlands.
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Sports betting and online gambling are illegal. Online gambling is what the federal government is now looking at. The reason is because Malaysia has an annual tax haemorrhage of nearly $430 million due to illegal online gambling. Some say it’s double that amount.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim wants to regulate the sector and capture tax revenue from online gambling. That will be a tidy sum for a country that has had annual budget deficits since 1998.
The country’s 70-year-old laws which have no provision for online gambling, namely the Lotteries Act 1952, the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953, the Betting Act 1953 and the Pool Betting Act 1967 need to be changed .
“When it comes to PAS and its actions, it’s easy to opt for the progressive approach and view gambling as a necessary evil”
The Islamist party PAS (Parti Islam Se Malaysia) and the other parties of the Muslim-Malay coalition Perikatan Nasional have other ideas. They decided to pursue the Shariapath.
Two state governments under the coalition banned lotteries and gambling activities in the northern states of Kedah in January and Perlis last month. They join two other states Kelantan and Terengganu which had banned gambling decades ago.
Moves like this don’t outright surprise the business community, but they may shake it. In the last general election, when results showed PAS had the most seats in parliament, a total of $730 million was wiped out of the market capitalization of local publicly traded casino, lottery and brewery operators, BursaMalaysia.
PAS leaders also said they would close the sole casino, Resorts World Genting in Pahang, if the Malaysian-majority state falls into PAS hands. The fact that only non-Muslims can enter the casino and that Muslims have been barred from entering since 1983 is not a mitigating factor for them.
When it comes to PAS and its actions, it’s easy to opt for the progressive approach and view gambling as a necessary evil due to its potential in generating revenue and creating jobs. But then, secular Singapore has far more gambling restrictions than Malaysia. Online gambling is banned and its only horse racing course will close next year.
In Sarawak, where Christians outnumber all other religious groups, Muslim groups oppose the state government’s plans to build a casino, saying there are other ways to make money. They say the social costs of gambling are irreversible and this is the same reason given by the state governments of Kedah and Perlis.
Social costs such as increased criminal activity, loss of income, broken relationships, and suicide are precisely what Catholic teaching warns us against.
CCC no. 2413 says: “Gambling or betting is not in itself contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for their needs and those of others. The passion for the game risks becoming a slavery. Unfair betting and cheating in games are serious matters, unless the damage caused is so slight that the sufferer cannot reasonably consider it significant.
“TheChurch needs to see that the social impact is too great to ignore and will increase once online gambling is legalized”
The Vatican decided in 2018 to reform its investment policies to be more in line with this teaching. He has decided not to invest in industries that are contrary to church doctrine. Gambling is one of them, although it’s not a sin.
Legalizing gambling fuels addictions, creates more and more compulsive gamblers and using the industry as a source of tax revenue is unethical, said the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development within the Roman Curia.
Bishops in the United States and the Philippines have over the years openly opposed all forms of gambling, but the Church in Malaysia has remained silent.
The Church needs to realize that the social impact is too great to ignore and will increase once online gambling is legalized. The government recently revealed that online gambling is one of the top three social ills affecting Malaysian youth. The other two are failure and porn addiction.
A 2016 study shows that 30% of Malaysian teenagers surveyed have gambled over a 12-month period and that a gambling parent has had a strong influence on them. Teens are already running up huge gambling debts.
With so much at stake, the position of the Malaysian Church should be made known.
*Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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