With Fifa World Cup round the corner, betting set to zoom

With Fifa World Cup round the corner, betting set to zoom

Singapore: People like a flutter and betting on football matches is big business, but in parts of Asia it is illegal and police across the region are cracking down ahead of the World Cup.

Tens of millions of dollars are expected to be wagered over the month-long football festival in South Africa on everything from who will win, to who scores the first goal or gets booked.

A large slice of this will change hands at market stalls or in underground gambling dens, often run by organized crime syndicates, and more still on online gambling websites.

Betting is illegal in India, except in case of horse racing, but it is flourishing, with the industry worth an estimated $1 billion (Rs4,720 crore) a year.

India may not have qualified for the event, but the betting market will still be buzzing.

Delhi Police’s Rajan Bhagat said bookies were picked up every other day, but admitted that gambling never really stops.

“We do keep a watch at special events like the World Cup and will do the same this time too," he said. “It is not easy to get rid of the menace."

In Malaysia, where European football is hugely popular, sports betting was made legal this month to the ire of conservative Islamists, but the licences will not be ready in time for the World Cup.

With the Malaysian illegal sports betting market thought to be as much as 20 billion ringgit (Rs28,440 crore) per annum, huge sums will be wagered during the tournament.

Police have set up a special taskforce to monitor online gambling.

“We’ll conduct raids on any outlet offering online betting. Such raids will be conducted regularly," Zainuddin Yaakob, a local police chief in southern Johor state, said. From January to early April, he said, some 1,700 computers were seized and 32 people arrested following raids in the state capital Johor Baharu.

In South Korea, government-listed firm Sports Toto holds the only licence for betting on sports events, including the World Cup, handing over 25% of sales to the government.

But illegal activities still take place, particularly online.

“Illegal betting has been done mainly through private websites, and big money changes hands," a culture and sports ministry official said.

“In cooperation with (the) police, the government has cracked down on illegal betting sites, but it has been hard to eradicate them because of technical problems. Some sites are run through servers abroad."

Some of Asia’s biggest betters are in China, where underground rings are rife.

According to Titan Sports Weekly, the nation spent up to 500 billion yuan (Rs3.44 trillion today) on online gambling during 2006, the last time the World Cup was held. This amounted to about 2% of China’s gross domestic product.

But over the last six months, police have embarked on a huge crackdown after corruption in the game was blown wide open with the arrest of China Football Association chief Nan Yong.

Since 2003, Hong Kong punters have been able to bet on football matches through the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Nevertheless, underground rings continue to thrive with illicit bookies offering better odds and spreads, as well as extending credit to punters, local reports say.

In September, Hong Kong police arrested six people for illegal bookmaking and money-laundering involving more than Hong Kong $53 million (around Rs32 crore today).

Betting is also legal in Australia, with the national team offered at 81-1 to win the cup.

Sportsbet.com.au’s Haydn Lane said there was more interest this time round, with bets starting in December as soon as the draw was announced.