Malaysia’s illegal bookies all geared up for World Cup

Friday, December 4, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR - As football fans around the world wait for the World Cup finals next year in South Africa, illegal bookies in Malaysia are already preparing to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars from punters.

Football betting is big money in Malaysia, and every year a large chunk of the estimated 10 billion dollars made by illegal gaming syndicates comes from bets on international football matches.

All forms of sports betting in Malaysia are illegal, except for horse racing. But football bookies, in particular, have continued to flourish and go undetected every year by offering betting odds online.

“In the old days, when everything was manual and they used papers and pens (to take bets) it was much easier to detect, but now everything is online, so it gets more challenging,” said an officer from the triads, betting and vice department at the national Bukit Aman police headquarters.

The officer was speaking to DPA on condition of anonymity as he is not permitted to comment publicly.

Under the country’s betting act, illegal bookmakers face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 ringgit ($57,150).

The penalty doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, as the officer, who leads at least three raids on gambling and betting dens every month, said the number of betting syndicates and amounts involved have been increasing in recent years.

The most popular matches involve games in the English and Spanish leagues and, of course, the World Cup, which saw the group draw scheduled for later Friday in Cape Town.

World Cup matches generate considerable interest from Malaysian punters. In the months leading up to the 2006 World Cup in Germany more than 70 people were arrested and bets amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars were seized.

“We’re intensifying our investigations in leading up to the World Cup finals next year,” said the officer.

He agreed that Malaysia was one of the main hubs for illegal sports betting, but said it was a problem of other Asian nations as well with a high population of ethnic Chinese, who make up the bulk of the bookies and customers.

Malaysian Chinese triad gangs have long been linked to gambling syndicates and attempts to fix football matches in Britain.

In the late 1990s, Malaysian criminals plotted to disrupt games in the English premiership by sabotaging floodlights at football grounds.

As certain bets can be paid out if a game is abandoned after passing half time, the syndicates stood to win millions of dollars from Asian punters with the disruption of games.

Malaysian gangs have also been implicated in attempts to bribe players in the English premiership to fix games.

“It’s a growing problem, not only in Malaysia, but in countries like Hong Kong and Singapore as well,” the officer told DPA.

“A lot of these syndicates seem to be operating from Malaysia but they always have international links, so the police works very closely with our counterparts in other countries to keep tabs on these bookies.”

However, the authorities continue to be hard-pressed to control the betting operations as bookies find more ways to reach out to customers while escaping the hand of the law, including providing Internet and SMS alerts and telelinks.

“Bookies have been quite aggressive in promoting their services these past few months, and it will intensify as we approach the World Cup final matches,” said a better named Ng, a regular punter who personally favours English Premier League matches.

“Placing a bet is so convenient and easy that you sometimes forget it’s illegal,” he said.

Filed under: Football

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