Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in June 2003. The deal had never been made public. But almost as soon as the revelation was out, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, Mahathir's successor, smacked it down, saying that no license had been or would be issued.
Politically, Abdullah's decision bagged two birds with a single stone. Since taking office last November, the Prime Minister has distanced himself from several of Mahathir's more controversial awards to businessmen, which has been popular. In January, for example, he canceled a $3.8 billion railway contract with another tycoon. Tan had paid $6.6 million for the betting license, which officials say will be refunded, and the business was guaranteed to be large: police estimate that illegal betting on soccer already pulls in $1.6 billion a year. Conservative MuslimsIslam forbids gamblingapplauded Abdullah's move.
Of course, some people were disappointed, and not only Premier League fans. "The government should leave it to the individual to decide whether to bet or not," says Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Action Party. Malaysia's media sent out a mixed message on the issue: Malay-language newspapers, principally read by Muslims, splashed the cancellation across their front pages, while coverage was subduedor absentin the urban English- and Chinese-language press, some of whose readers aren't averse to the occasional bet on a soccer match.