KUALA LUMPUR, June 26 (Reuters) - Malaysia will not issue a sports betting licence to a firm set to be controlled by gaming group Berjaya Corp (BGRO.KL) amid growing public anger in the mostly Muslim nation, local media reported on Saturday.
The Star newspaper cited Prime Minister Najib Razak as saying that the government initially agreed to award the licence to Ascot Sports Sdn Bhd to control the illegal betting industry that had grown to 10 billion ringgit ($3.08 billion) yearly.
But the government delayed issuing the licence to Ascot as it wanted to get public feedback after the proposal sparked protests across the country by Muslims who are forbidden to gamble under Islamic laws.
“It (the decision) is about the political impact and from the (Islam) religion point of view,” the Star cited Najib as saying after chairing a meeting with senior officials of his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) on Friday.
The government’s move to consider issuing a betting licence in early May was met with protests after Muslim Friday prayers. The opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) said it would organise a 100,000-strong protest next week.
The New Straits Times cited Najib as saying that the government had the legal right to withdraw the licence and would not compensate Ascot Sports, which was acquired last month by Berjaya Corp from its major shareholder — tycoon Vincent Tan.
Tan also controls Berjaya Corp as well as Berjaya Sports Toto (BSTB.KL), one of three number forecast operators in the country where Islamic moral police squads routinely patrol gambling outlets to arrest Malay Muslims.
Berjaya was not immediately available for comment.
Shares in both Berjaya and Berjaya Sports Toto tumbled 3.4 percent on Friday before the announcement.
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Reporting by Niluksi Koswanage