This week, Bangkok metropolitan police busted a “call center gang” taking football bets for Asian online sportsbook SBOBet. The Pattaya Daily News said police raided a luxury villa just outside Bangkok, arresting three women, one man, five computers, four laptops, one iPad, nine mobile phones and (presumably) a partridge in a pear tree. One of the women was reportedly the outfit’s ringleader, having confessed to renting the house using a 5b baht ($160k) float provided by SBOBet to get the Euro 2012 ball rolling.
The bust is but the latest anti-betting action that Euro 2012 has spawned across the region. However, China is also getting tough on its domestic footie, recently sentencing eight players and officials – including two former heads of the China Football Association – to up to 10 years in prison for taking bribes and fixing matches. Describing football gambling as a “tumor”, a CFA official said cutting it out was “a matter of life and death.” We hate to break it to the unnamed official, but so long as sports betting remains an illegal, underground activity, China will continue to experience match-fixing – the vast majority of which will go undetected. Far better to realize the benefits of a legal, ‘light touch’ regulated market. Not only would market forces create better value for punters, but a crop of experienced professional bookmakers zealously defending their company bankrolls would spot suspicious betting activity a mile off.
In the meantime, countries like Vietnam permit only ersatz Euro 2012 betting such as free-to-enter ‘prediction contests,’ in which players enter the final score of matches on newspaper coupons, and those who predict correctly get their coupons entered into a random drawing for a token cash prize and some sponsor’s products. The Tuoi Tre newspaper is even running an online game called “Virtual betting, real winning” in which players collect points for correctly predicting match outcomes, with the highest point earner winning a cash prize. The theory seems to be that sports betting – even the online variety – is okay so long as the punter isn’t actually fronting any cash, which is sort of like saying the authorities wouldn’t mind if a girl invited every guy in town over to her house for chance to win a free blowjob, but she and her gentlemen callers would be arrested the second she hung a “Blowjobs: $1” sign on her front door.
Then again, maybe she wouldn’t. Colonel Ho Sy Tien, acting head of the Investigative Police Agency on Social Order, told VietnamNet it was time the authorities recognized that “prostitution is a social phenomenon that must be solved in the long run. We should recognize it as a ‘job’ with public and specific rules to better manage it. The state can collect taxes. Education and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases will be easier.” The colonel said it was futile to go on prosecuting something “which is not seen as guilty” by the majority of the population. Words to live by.