Illegal gambling costing Malaysian govt RM5 billion in lost tax revenue every year

The illegal gambling menace in Malaysia continues to make headlines. This is a decades-long issue that has morphed from illegal sellers taking bets at coffee shops to punters placing bets via mobile phone applications.

While there are sufficient laws to tackle the scourge, why is it still happening?

Criminologist Datuk Dr P. Sundramoorthy said there was obviously a lack of coordination among the enforcement agencies.

“Coordinating is one thing. There are also sufficient tools, laws, and technology to deal with this matter … so why aren’t we dealing with illegal gambling, including online gambling, more effectively?” asked Sundramoorthy.

“Crime is always challenging … like kidnapping and murder. But our police are good at solving such complex crimes. It should be the same with illegal gambling.”

Illegal gambling syndicates, physical or online, are often linked to other criminal activities, including:

  • prostitution
  • drugs, and
  • unlicenced money lenders.

Industry players have been hurt by the illegal gambling activities which have
impacted their revenues. In return, the country loses out on taxes. A Malaysian
lawmaker last month raised this matter.

Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun was recently quoted as saying reports indicated that illegal 4D betting syndicates, which primarily operate online, generate at least RM18 billion in revenue annually, “double the revenue of legal operators”.

He added that the government loses some RM5 billion in taxes, annually. With RM5 billion, the government would be able to:

  • construct 52 new schools
  • provide RM100,000 education scholarships to 50,000 students
  • provide RM1 million pre-seed funding to 5,000 start-ups or RM10,000 start-up capital for 500,000 businesses
  • provide 1 billion menu Rahmah meals (at RM5 each), and
  • build 33 24-storey police stations.

Currently, online gambling is an offence under the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953. However, there have been calls for the government to consider legalising online gambling to licenced number forecast operators to earn additional tax revenue, and to eradicate unlicenced operators.

This will also keep the outflow of ringgit in check as some illegal online gambling operators are based abroad.

The government has recently pledged to look into amending gaming laws, namely the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953, Pool Betting Act 1967, Lotteries Act 1952, and the Betting Act 1953.

In a written reply on May 24 to a question by Sungai Siput MP Kesavan Subramaniam, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said: “It is hoped with the (amended) laws, the government will be able to enforce and regulate licenced gambling activities and online gambling more comprehensively”.

But why are illegal gambling operators thriving?

Sundramoorthy said it all boils down to the mindset of punters.

“People see it as a victimless crime, not just in Malaysia, but in other parts of the world. What they don’t know is that these syndicates are linked to other illegal activities. Also, people have been buying illegal 4D numbers for years … their grandparents did it, their parents did it, and now, they are doing it. And how often do you hear or see a punter who placed bets illegally being arrested?

“We can educate and increase awareness but it’s become a culture and you can’t change cultures overnight,” Sundramoorthy added.

Online gambling is not restricted to just 4D lottery but also roulette online casinos and sports betting. Millions, if not billions of ringgit, flow out of the country annually as a result of online gambling.

The authorities are often unable to nab the main operators because their servers are mostly based abroad.

The outflow of the ringgit spikes during major sporting events – like the Fifa World Cup.

For now, Sundramoorthy agreed that certain laws must be amended to reflect the evolution of illegal gambling activities online.

“The laws of the country must be relevant,” he added.

There are those who strongly believe that number forecast operators should be allowed to provide their services online. The move will assist the government to generate more revenue via taxes, and help eradicate illegal gambling syndicates.

The ball is now in the decision-makers’ court.

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