KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders scoffed at Tan Sri Vincent Tan’s gesture to donate RM525 million profit from selling part of his sports betting company and justification for legalising that business.
The tycoon announced yesterday that the entire payout from selling 70 per cent of Ascot Sports Sdn Bhd to his listed Berjaya Corp Bhd will be donated to his Better Malaysia Foundation.
“If he is really sincere, he should return the sports betting licence and allow the government to have an open tender for it,” DAP publicity chief Tony Pua told The Malaysian Insider.
The Najib administration last month had re-issued the licence to Tan after the original licence was cancelled by the previous Abdullah administration. The tycoon’s son — Datuk Robin Tan Yeong Ching — will retain his 30 per cent stake in the company.
Pua pointed out that Yeong Ching stood to make RM225 million “without lifting a finger”.
Tan yesterday criticised the Opposition, particularly those educated in Oxford, in reference to Pua for objecting the legalisation of sports betting.
He pointed out the government was losing billions in revenue to illegal bookies — who thrive despite the best efforts of the police.
However the Petaling Jaya Utara MP hit back by pointing out that his objection was why the government was letting Tan benefit personally from the award of the licence.
“I can even understand if the licence went to Berjaya Sports Toto but not to a company with no track record owned by Tan and son,” he said.
He added that Tan’s gesture to donate to his own charity did not justify anything.
“The issue is why should the money go to him, not what he does with it,” he said.
Pua also challenged Tan to prove his claim that the government had given him “a first right of refusal” to get the sports betting licensed reissued to him.
Tan had first obtained the licence in 1987 but had “asked the government to take it back” when the venture was unsuccessful. But he has now obtained the right to get the licence back and was exercising it.
“He should show us the contract,” said Pua.
Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad also lashed out at Tan’s claim that legal sports betting indirectly stop punters from going to loan sharks or “Alongs”.
Tan had said that illegal bookies allowed punters to bet on credit and would introduce them to Alongs when they lost.
He said legal bookies who took ‘cash up front’ force punters to bet within their means.
But the PAS politician was unconvinced.
“It’s not true,” he said.
Khalid said gamblers who lost regardless of whether through legal or illegal sports betting could still turn to Alongs.
“As it is there is a huge social impact from illegal sports betting but the situation is bound to get worse when it is legalised,” he said.
PKR strategic director Chua Tian Chang called Tan’s statement the most ridiculous the tycoon had ever made.
“It’s quite laughable to make the overture... It’s like a robber coming up to say, ‘Yeah, I’m donating half of my property for helping the poor victims of violence.’
“I don’t think whatever he’s trying to do can justify sport betting,” he said, adding the PR’s position on sport betting had nothing to do with whether or not Tan made charitable donations.
“The whole thing looks like a desperate move to try and convince the public to justify his licence.”
However, Chua stressed that he did not see the sport betting as a moral issue.
The Batu MP was more concerned with the potential sports betting has to “pollute” the concept of sport and a healthy society.
“We’re not saying all forms of gambling should be closed down.
“Sport should not be made a form of gambling. Sport penetrates into the life of school [and] families,” he said.
“Suddenly [you have] a group of kids watching Manchester and Liverpool [and] you don’t know what they’re interested in.
“Are they interested in sport or to make money out of it,” he said.
PAS vice president Datuk Dr Mahfuz Omar down played Tan’s monetary contribution, saying it would be far outweighed by the cost of addressing the consequences of legalised sports betting.
“He can give however much he wants to charity but our government and society will have to allocate more funds to tackle the social ills that come with gambling.
“The government and the nation will have to bear the cost of fixing these problems,” he said, citing an increase in the incidence of snatch thefts and marital problems as possible consequences.
“Vincent Tan shouldn’t try to buy the Malaysian people with his statement... They appreciate the value of life more.”
“I ask the government not to be influenced [by his words],” the Pokok Sena MP urged, adding that if the government had to rely on gambling revenue, it would simply prove that Najib’s administration is in dire straits financially.
“Such a government would be in deep trouble.”
Umno’s Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo said gambling of any kind was forbidden in Islam and the government must put safe guards to ensure Muslims don’t get involved.
“But economically it is practical to allow legalised sports betting so the government can obtain revenue,” said the former Selangor Mentri Besar.