Kuala Lumpur: Mainly Muslim Malaysia has legalised sports betting, the company acquiring the new licence said Thursday, saying it would curb illegal gambling and boost government coffers.

Ascot Sports, a company controlled by influential tycoon Vincent Tan, has been granted a licence that will allow it to offer odds in time for the hugely popular English Premier League season.

"Ascot Sports has been re-issued the sports betting licence by the Ministry of Finance which was first issued in 1987," gaming group Berjaya - of which Tan is a major shareholder - said in a statement.

Berjaya, a conglomerate with holdings ranging from lottery to casino operations, will acquire a 70 percent stake in Ascot Sports by paying Tan 525 million ringgit (164 million dollars)

The 1987 permit was quickly rescinded and an attempt to revive it several years ago failed because of opposition to gambling, which is forbidden in Islam.

Berjaya said that legalising sports betting will curb illegal bookmaking and bring huge revenues to the government.

"By some estimates, the illegal sports betting market in Malaysia is thought to be as much as 20 billion ringgit per annum," it said.

"This represents a tremendous loss of tax revenue to the Government which Ascot Sports hopes to be able to mitigate."

The company will launch products based on internationally popular sporting events including football, basketball, motor racing, tennis and golf.

"Ascot Sports will also offer telephone betting convenience and only adults above 21 years old and non-Muslims will be allowed to open a telephone betting account," Berjaya said.

Malaysia's conservative Islamic party is among the groups that have criticised plans to award the sports gambling licence, which they fear could promote betting and increase debt.