ASEAN Region Thread May 7, 2013 15:44:42 GMT 8
Post by stellarboy on May 7, 2013 15:44:42 GMT 8
Cambodia’s game of shame: the town at heart of global soccer match-fixing
April 15th, 2013
POIPET, Cambodia — A seedy Cambodian border town is a key hub in the massive illegal betting industry that is fuelling what international soccer officials say is a match-fixing “pandemic.”
Poipet, a gambling den near the Thai frontier that is stuffed with casinos, illegal betting shops and brothels, has emerged in recent years as the Las Vegas of Southeast Asia’s illegal gambling trade, thought to be worth nearly $1.5 billion a year.
The role of Asian betting syndicates, which collude with corrupt players and officials, was highlighted in a Europol inquiry two months ago that disclosed the global scale of match-fixing.
It reported how hundreds of games, including Champions League matches and World Cup qualifiers, are thought to have been rigged over the past four years, with nearly $3 million changing hands in bribes. Europol believes that many of the bets are placed via unregulated bookmakers in gambling centres such as Poipet, who deal with both online and walk-in punters.
Last week, a referee and his two assistants were being questioned by corruption authorities in Singapore over possible match-fixing ahead of an Asian Football Confederation Cup game.
Last month, the London Sunday Telegraph newspaper visited Poipet, where the Manchester United and Liverpool logos that festoon the windows of many bookmakers show the popularity of betting on Premier League games.
But the town will offer odds on nearly any league or match, be it New Zealand versus Russia or a Greece versus Kazakhstan under-16s game.
As well as betting on the results of matches, punters can place spot bets, where they wager money not on a result, but on specific incidents happening in a match, such as who will get yellow cards or when a linesman might raise his flag.
Spot bets are considered far easier to fix as they require the bribing of just a single player or official — and in Southeast Asia’s unregulated gambling world, they can attract wagers of up to $100,000 a time. Many bookmakers in North America and Europe refuse to take odds on spot bets because of match-fixing fears.
“Of course we are operating illegally — soccer gambling is against the law,” says Rothana, a 25-year-old Cambodian running a bookmaker’s called 776win.bet, where gamblers sit at a line of computers as if in an Internet café. “But we pay the police to let us operate.”
Poipet is one of the few places in Cambodia where casino betting is legal, just as casinos in America are restricted largely to Las Vegas, Atlantic City and a handful of states.
Such a wealth of gambling opportunities attracts hundreds of thousands of punters every year, some Cambodian and some from Thailand, where betting is also illegal. Many take advantage of free buses from Bangkok laid on by the casinos, which will give each passenger a few complimentary gambling chips.
Despite the immense profits generated by the gambling industry, Poipet is lacking in Vegas-style glitz. Separated from Thailand by a rubbish-strewn river, its dirty streets coat everyone and everything in yellow dust. Barefoot children beg and prostitutes prowl for customers. The motorbike drivers who act as taxis also sell drugs.
“It’s a lawless place and scary because of that,” says Pan, a Thai bar owner. “There aren’t many police here, so if you have a problem you can’t count on them to solve it.”
That lack of law enforcement has allowed the football betting industry to flourish. The bookmakers in Poipet are part of chains that lead back to the criminal gambling gangs of Singapore and China. It is they who are believed to be behind the match-fixing scandals plaguing football leagues across the world.
In February, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, announced the results of an 18-month investigation into match-rigging. It revealed how 680 games in 30 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and South America were believed to have been fixed between 2008 and 2011. Among them was said to be Liverpool’s 1-0 win over the Hungarian team Debrecen in the 2009-10 Champions League.
Both Europol and FIFA, the world football administrator, believe the man responsible for much of the match-fixing is Tan Seet Eng, known as Dan Tan, a 48-year-old ethnic Chinese Singaporean.
Allegations of Tan’s involvement in match-rigging became public after telephone references to him as “Il Boss” emerged in a 2011 Italian police investigation into fixed games in the country’s lower divisions.
In February, Zhang Jilong the acting president of the Asian Football Confederation, described match-fixing as a “pandemic.” Such is the scale of the problem in China that last month David Beckham was appointed as a special ambassador for soccer. The Chinese authorities hope that the former England captain’s clean image will help restore fans’ faith in the sport.
It is not hard to establish the ties between the bookmakers in Poipet and the gambling gangs in Singapore and China.
“All of the shops are owned by Chinese or ethnic Chinese from Singapore,” said Rothana. “My boss is from Singapore. He sent me here to open this place eight months ago. We make around 100,000 baht ($5,000) a day.”
At another shop in Poipet called 333casino.net, the workers were all Chinese nationals. When The Sunday Telegraph asked to make a wager on Swansea City versus Arsenal, the bet was laid via a Chinese website.
“The first Chinese came here in 2008,” said one of the staff, a 30-year-old woman who wanted to be known only by her nickname of Xiao Li. “Now, some other members of my family have come too because it is such good business.”
More than anything, it is the advent of online gaming that has spurred the rise of match-fixing. With gambling illegal in so many Asian countries, a vast, untapped market of punters can now bet with the tap of a computer key.
In turn, that has been a boon to the match-fixing syndicates, because online betting enables people to gamble while the games are in progress far more easily.
“Football betting began to become popular in Asia after the 1990 World Cup. But it is online gambling that has really enhanced its growth, because it allows for live betting,” said Dr. Visanu Vongsinsirikul, an expert on soccer betting from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
The rigging of matches is done in advance by agents — often former Eastern European soccer players — who approach corrupt players and officials and act as go-betweens. They then get hundreds of people to place bets online in locations around Southeast Asia such as Poipet.
In Poipet, much of the spot betting is believed to be done in “private rooms” inside casinos, where access is by fingerprint scanner. Locals say that inside these rooms, workers speaking a variety of Asian languages take wagers online and on the telephone from high-rollers around the region.
Visanu estimates that in Thailand alone the industry is worth $150 million annually, just 10 per cent of the profits across Asia each year. So many games are believed to be rigged, that many Asian punters will pay handsomely for advance information on which matches have been fixed.