WORLD CUP - Hong Kong punters eye online betting

According to a recent survey, 70 percent of Hong Kongers pondering a World Cup wager will place it via the Internet, an act currently illegal under Hong Kong law.

Over half of all survey respondents expressed support for legal sports betting in Hong Kong.

The survey, conducted by NFO WorldGroup Hong Kong, polled 835 local residents on their soccer betting plans. Twelve percent of all respondents indicated definite plans to bet on World Cup 2002, with another eight percent indicating that they might do so. Sixteen percent of respondents claimed wagers on soccer matches within the past year. By comparison, 33 percent said they'd bet on local horse races while 60 percent said they'd played the Mark Six.

In addition to the 57 percent of respondents who supported legal sports betting in Hong Kong, 52 percent agreed that the Hong Kong government should move faster toward legalization of such betting.

While these narrow margins indicate that a majority of respondents favor legalization, there was no clear support for the practice in general. Many respondents expressed reservations about the function of wagering in the sporting realm, with 42 percent agreeing that betting devalues sports, while 36 percent agreeing that sports betting encourages match-fixing and corruption.

Although online betting is illegal in Hong Kong, and live Webcasts aren't available for any of this year's World Cup matches, the industry hasn't ignored the local market. Major players in countries where online betting is legal -- like the U.K.'s William Hill and Ladbrokes, and Australia's Tattersall's -- target Greater China with sites and customer support in Chinese. The William Hill site even offers odds on Happy Valley races in traditional Chinese characters, with Cantonese- speaking, U.K.-based support people.

"This rapid growth in recent years has clearly left its mark on the Hong Kong consumer," said NFO Hong Kong Director Stephen Yap. "70 percent of those who indicated they would place bets plan do so online. That's more than twice the number of the 34 percent intending to place bets with local syndicates."

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