By Thomas Lee Seng Hock
The issue of gambling is again hogging the political limelight, following the PAS Kelantan state government decision to disallow the sales of Big Sweep lottery tickets in coffee-shops and other business premises.
The common perception at present is that since the Big Sweep lottery scheme has been given a licence to operate, the Kelantan state government has no authority and power to ban its sale of lottery tickets in the state.
On the contrary, although the licence to operate the lottery is given by the federal government, the authority responsible for issueing permits to premises to operate as lotttery outlets is the local council.
The lottery can be sold in Kelantan, but only in premises which have been specifically licensed for the purpose, i.e.legally permitted to operate as lottery outlets.
Hence, the Kota Baru Municipal Council is not intrinsically wrong per se to take action on business premises selling lottery tickets as they are not licensed as lottery outlets. A bookshop, for example, has no business selling lottery tickets.
The argument in support of the Big Sweep lottery being allowed to be freely available to the people is that it is a fundamental right enshrined and endorsed by the Social Welfare Lottery Act.
This antiquated and obsolete law was originally enacted to allow the federal government to raise funds via a lottery scheme for its welfare work among the poor and underpriviledged people.
Hence, it surely is not right to use this archaic legislation to justify the current business operation of the gambling commercial enterprises. The profits from these lottery schemes run by these companies are not specifically meant and used for welfare work, and as such, these schemes should not be covered by the provisions of the Social Welfare Lottery Act.
Having looked at the legal implication of the Kelantan action, we should also consider the religious, moral, social and ethical dimensions of the gambling issue.
Gambling is basically a games of chance, involving the wagering of money or something of value.
Currently, gambling is a major commercial activity, with a worldwide legal gambling market involving an estimated US$400 billion (RM1.2 trillion) in 2010. In Malaysia, hundreds of millions of ringgit are involved in the three weekly lottery draws operated by the three major gaming corporations -- Sport Toto, Magnum, and Big Sweep. Hence, gambling is a signficant economic activity, and an avenue for the federal government to collect massive taxes.
But the moral and social consequences of the gambling habit are certainly matters of deep concern. The emergence of loan sharks, for example, is a direct consequence of the gambling culture.
In view of the moral and social consequences, almost all religions frown on gambling as an evil practice, a sin, at least the official level.
However, many countries, including Malaysia, have made allowance for those who wish to gamble, and accommodate them by regulating and limiting gambling with legal jurisdictions and taxation.
In Malaysia, gambling has been legalized with licences given to various companies to operate lottery schemes, and at the turf clubs and casinos. Legally, only the non-Muslims are allowed to purchase lottery tickets and patronise these gambling joints.
The issue PAS raised concerning the moral evil of gambling is not without merit, and we should seriously give the party a hearing on the matter, at least on the following grounds:
First of all, the most serious consequence of a legalized gambling scheme is the harmful impact it has on the poorest section of our society. Even without the benefit of extensive empirical studies, we can verify by objective observation that the largest number of gamblers come from the poorest section of our community.
Psychologically, many of these poor people have conditioned themselves to think that they could never uplift their current economic status, unless they could strike it big in a lottery draw or win big in other gambling schemes. Gambling gives them a hope of sort.
Secondly, the easily availablity of licensed gambling outlets leads to the temptation to try one's luck, especially when the jackpot winnings nowadays can be in tens of millions ringgit. The inititate "harmless" play can eveutally develop into a habit, a bondage to the gambling demon. Many a life and family have been destroyed by the evil of addicted gambling.
Thirdly, one serious consequence of gambling is the rise of criminal activities. Desparate addicted gamblers will steal, rob, or even murder to get money to fuel their gambling habit or to repay gambling debts. Many are harassed by loan sharks who use all sorts of violent tactics against the borrowers and their innocent family members. The rise in snatch thefts, break-ins, robberies, etc is certainly one consequence of unrestrained gambling.
Finally, many families have been destroyed by a gambling father, a gambling mother, a gambling son. Lives have been lost due to gambling losses. Recently, there have been some very sad stories about housewives from Johor travelling to the casinos in Singapore, and causing break-ups of families.
While the MCA and Gerakan politicians, as usual, are trying to cash in to score political points by attacking PAS over its attempt to curb the spread of the gambling evil among the people, are they really aware and concerned about the moral-social and spiritual well-being of the citizens?
Whatever may be the theological basis of the PAS philosophy and practices, it is certainly clear on what is universally morally right and morally wrong, and as a Christian I accept and endorse its moral-ethical values as being consistent with universal moral principles. Note, I said moral-ethical values, not theology.
The promoters of Islamophobia and PASphobia in the MCA and Gerakan use every conceivable opportunity and excuse to attack the DAP for giving in to the PAS Islamic state agenda, exploiting the ignorance and fear of the theologically illiterate and politically naive in their desparate attempt to hold on to their little derived power given to them by Umno.
We should not allow ourselves to be deceived and misled by the politics of fear propagated by the promoters of Islamophobia and PASphobia in the MCA and Gerakan.
We need to understand that the essential need for our country's survival and progress is a politically viable formula, grounded on mutual trust and respect, with compromise and cooperation based on common universal moral, social and ethical values.
There is a place for accomodation of common values, a need for adoption of a common political platform, a willingness to assimilate and integrate the good values and practices of each other, and the vision and mission too accelerate our country into a righteous, just, fair, equal, peaceful, harmonous, and prosperous nation, without the considerations of colour, creed, culture, and class.
The PAS stand on gambling is not something to be polticized, but something to be honestly, objectively and critically evaluated and reflected on, because our children's future is at stake. It doesn't mean that since gambling is legal, it must be morally right. The ISA is legal, but is morally evil and oppressive.