The National Council on Physical Fitness and Sports yesterday promised it would launch a sports lottery in Taiwan at the start of 2007 as planned, but remained tight-lipped over whether it could help reduce the influence of local betting syndicates.
Acknowledging that there were still many hurdles to clear, the council's Department of Planning chief Yeh Ching-tong said steady progress was being made to begin the sports lottery on January 1, 2007.
Officials said the new lottery, the first-ever to legalize sports betting in Taiwan, would likely consist of printed tickets with a list of games from U.S. professional baseball, football and basketball and international soccer matches. Punters would bet on the results (win, loss or draw).
Officials did not rule out eventually including local professional baseball and basketball games in the lottery, but stressed they would not be part of the plan at the beginning.
The lottery has been promoted as a means of improving public welfare, and Yeh said that its profits would be donated to charitable causes, just like the "6/49 Lotto" currently on the market, but some also hope it will establish a precedent for legalized sports betting.
Backing legalized gambling
Many government and community leaders have favored legalizing betting to discourage the influence of under-the-table gambling operations that are quite popular in Taiwan, and which nearly brought down the local professional baseball league last year.
Some pro baseball officials have argued that by legalizing gambling and making it transparent under the tight control of the state, punters would place their wagers through legal means rather than feeding underground gambling syndicates.
But Yeh and other council officials were unwilling to comment on whether the lottery program was a step on the way to legalized betting.
They focused on the work done to launch the lottery in 2007. According to officials, Chinatrust Commercial Bank, which will take over the public lottery program next year, had conducted extensive studies in other countries on aspects of sports betting, such as the legal framework, accounting, security, and profit disbursement.
Yeh said that the system's security and its operation needed to be perfected before the lottery could be put in place.
Meanwhile, at yesterday's press conference, the council's international sports head Chang Feng-feng touted Taiwan's medal haul at the 2005 East Asian Games in Macao, where local athletes won 12 gold, 34 silver, and 26 bronze (72 medals total).
Chang declared that Taiwan will do even better in the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, with a target of 15 gold and 80 total medals at the event.