Liberalising gambling laws could help China survive the global economic downturn, sports officials told the annual meeting of China's parliament this week, according to a report from the Reuters news agency.
"I suggest we deregulate the lottery," Hebei delegate Yang Jingzhi told the Sports Circle at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. "Our present lottery games are monotonous. We should fully introduce the international practices, such as betting on horses, "mark six" and various others. There are lots of types of lottery in Britain and the U.S., can we see any harm? As long as it is well legislated, there is not much harm."
Jingzhi set the tone for several other suggestions by political representatives as the advisory body discussed ways in which sport could contribute to the economic challenges China faces.
"The sports industry in the short term can help maintain stable economic growth and employment," deputy sports minister Wang Jun said. "The sports lottery can help create jobs. There are some 300 000 lottery ticket sellers in the country. We are facing a problem that underground casinos and overseas gambling have dangerously broken in, taking an estimated 10 times as much as our official lottery.
"In Hong Kong, where the legal lottery is well developed, the official business is 10 times as big as the private ones."
Gambling was banned in mainland China after the Communist takeover in 1949, the exceptions being two state lotteries – one of them run by the sports ministry to fund the building of facilities.
It thrives, however, on the race courses of Hong Kong and in the casinos of Macau – both special administrative regions – while the frequent break up by police of underground syndicates indicates a flourishing illegal sector.
But the beginnings of change are visible – the central city of Wuhan hosted the first commercial horse race in China since 1949 in November 2008. Gambling was strictly limited with prizes, not cash, on offer for winning bets.
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