5/13/10 – Remember Vincent Tan’s online sports betting venture Ascot Sports? Back in 2006-2007 the brand gained prominence in the online gambling business in Europe with Ascot Sports.com and later an online casino powered by RTG and licensed in the Philippines.
Tan eventually took his brands back to Malaysia, where they resurfaced this week in reports that suggest that some business manouevring is going on, prompted by strong rumours that the stringent Malaysian bans on sports betting may be relaxed for the World Cup football next month.
Edge Financial Daily reports that Malaysia's Berjaya Corp is to acquire a controlling stake in Ascot Sports as a frontrunner for a sports betting licence. The company is expected to be a key beneficiary if the government decides to legalise sports betting.
Billionaire Tan will presumably still have an interest, because he is also the single largest shareholder in Berjaya Corp. Berjaya announced a suspension of its shares for today (Wednesday) pending an announcement.
The government has yet to announce the award of the sports betting licence but last week Deputy Finance Minister Awang Adek Hussein said he was studying the possibility of issuing licenses to curb illegal betting (see previous InfoPowa report).
Compounding the confusion over whether a licence is already held or not, The Star newspaper in Malaysia reported that “…the sports gaming licence issued to tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan's Ascot Sports early this year comes with several conditions attached.”
The report goes on to reveal that Ascot Sports will be allowed to operate in only 200 of the 680 Sport Toto outlets in non-Muslim areas in major towns, and online betting would be explicitly excluded. These outlets would also be required to put up notices that only adult non-Muslims would be allowed to place bets.
The Sports Toto games are offered by Berjaya Sports Toto, a listed company controlled by Tan.
The newspaper commented: “It is also understood that Ascot Sports, which was reissued the licence on January 13, is unlikely to be ready for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, which will take place between June 11 and July 11.”
The Star does note, however, that there has been no official announcement from the Finance Ministry on the award of the licence, although the market and the media have been speculating about it for the past two weeks.
Ascot Sports held a licence back in 1987 but agreed to surrender it in 1990 after operating for more than a year in Kuala Lumpur. The Finance Ministry respected the decision and granted Ascot Sports the first right of refusal if the ministry were to think it appropriate to re-issue the licence.
The licence was re-issued to Ascot Sports in 2003, but in 2004, the government decided not to allow it to operate, The Star recounts, opining that now may be the right time for government to give Ascot the go-ahead in order to capitalise on what is expected to be massive World Cup football betting.
The newspaper quotes an unidentified source as saying: “We have to be realistic as billions of ringgit are placed on bets for sports events. Revenue amounting to hundreds of millions of ringgit could be collected if a proper mechanism for sports gaming is in place.
“The Internet has brought gaming right into your homes and everyone now has access to gaming, but with a gaming license in Malaysia, it would be regulated.”
There have been unofficial estimates that Malaysians place RM20 billion in bets a year with local illegal and offshore bookmakers, the newspaper reports.