The Associated Press has embarked on a six-month series on organized crime’s efforts to corrupt football. On Friday, the AP’s focus was on Poipet, the special economic zone between Cambodia and Thailand in which casinos, some bearing Entertainment Gaming Asia’s Dreamworld brand, have taken root. Despite sports wagering being illegal in both Cambodia and Thailand, bookies have established residency alongside the slots and table games.
Both land-based and online bookies are available to punters in Poipet, with the AP’s Chris Brummitt noting that the websites operating in the town act as unofficial agents of the region’s Philippine-based online gambling market leaders. Most of the punters are wagering on European football, although there’s plenty of action to be had for smaller leagues closer to home, such as in India or New Zealand. As a Sri Lankan palm oil worker put it, “we can’t always pronounce the team we are betting on, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is we can recognize them.” (It’s all about branding, people…) The bettors told the AP they’re aware that match fixing might take place but say it doesn’t affect their interest in betting.
FIX THE MEDIA, NOT THE MATCHES?
The AP’s investigative series was likely prompted by the release earlier this month of the breathless report from intelligence-sharing agency Europol that Asian syndicates had utilized “425 match officials, club officials, players and serious criminals from more than 15 countries” to fix over 380 pro football matches in Europe and a further 300 in the rest of the world. Europol’s report was jam-packed with similarly scandalous allegations but short on specifics, leading many observers to question Europol’s motivations.
Rick Parry, former Liverpool CEO and chairman of the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s report on sports betting and corruption, told the Guardian: “There was little new in there. It seemed like grandstanding from Europol.” FIFA president Sepp Blatter noted that most of Europol’s revelations were already well known to authorities and some cases had already been dealt with by the courts. Blatter acknowledged that fixing existed, but said its prevalence was vastly overblown and that racism was a bigger problem for football than fixing.
DO ALL AUSTRALIAN BOOKIES HAVE UNLISTED NUMBERS?
Consider the recent Australian Crime Commission (ACC) report on the use of banned drugs by pro athletes. The media response has almost wholly fixated on the allegation that organized crime was supplying athletes with performance enhancers in the hopes of later blackmailing them into fixing matches. Despite the ACC’s report stating that just one of the matches they put under their microscope may have been tampered with, the usual suspects have gathered up their pitchforks and torches and laid siege to the doors of betting agencies.
Now it turns out that the ACC never even bothered to consult with Australian betting operators to determine whether there was evidence of curious betting patterns on the match in question. TAB sportsbook managing director Craig Nugent told the Daily Telegraph that no one at his company had been contacted by the ACC, nor was anyone “aware of any event that the ACC report may have been referring to.” Sportingbet’s Michael Sullivan said that if the ACC was really concerned over the matter, “you’d think they would have interviewed us.” Sportsbet CEO Cormac Barry also reported his phone failing to ring and called the ACC’s linkage of drugs and betting “speculative.”
To be sure, match fixing is undoubtedly going on and is something that all betting operators must remain vigilant against, but the scale of the problem is nowhere near as vast as the media and/or government agencies up for budget renewal would have you believe. As veteran Aussie corporate bookie Lloyd Merlehan put it: “I’ve learnt over 25 years as a bookmaker that unless you can categorically point the finger at someone, there’s normally no truth to it.”