The gambling dens of Asia have a grubby reputation. The punter wanting to bet a few years ago in the streets of Jakarta or Hanoi would need a password for access to the bookies who had set up in the backroom of a karaoke bar. Or there was the mansion in the middle of the Malaysian jungle with a giant satellite dish on its roof beaming in football matches from around the world.
This subversive glamour is the past. The hideouts and holes have been replaced by gleaming office blocks, 24-hour call centres and websites, so that gamblers can get their bet on. Gambling in Asia has gone corporate.
Betting behemoths including SBO Bet — a name you might recognise from the shirts of West Ham United until last season — and IBC Bet have been granted licences by the Philippines to run their operations out of Manila.
Anti-corruption investigators call it “the grey market”, because while they unequivocally know the temperament of black and white markets, of this new industry they are unsure.
The grey market is used by match-fixers simply because they are able to stake unrestrained amounts in a faceless manner. An illegal black-market bookie has a limit to how much he can afford to lose and white-market firms such as Ladbrokes or William Hill restrict customers. A fixer could place $500 bets every second on the website of one of the licensed bookmakers from anywhere in the world.
An example, according to a source within SBO Bet, was an under-17 match in Scotland last year. The match was listed on the betting websites and almost $1 million poured in. A Barclays Premier League match will attract $60 million and an early kick-off involving two of the bigger clubs — because of the time difference — can rake in double that.
About 90 per cent of money wagered will be on the Asian handicap, a market that allows the team expected to win a “head start” of a quarter of a goal or more to the opposition. The rest of the money staked will go on over or under a certain amount of goals and the match result.
These three markets are the only ones of interest to the armies of bettors. It is a myth that there are weird and wonderful markets to be exploited by fixers such as the time of the first throw-in or number of corners. But what is the anatomy of match-fixing, an industry that yields $90 billion annually?
Once a fix is set up, the corruptors will either employ minions to place the wagers on the websites such as SBO or a broker company will be given the task of placing bets on a second-by-second basis. Armed with either the knowledge of the result or how many (and when) goals will be scored, the odds are manipulated in favour of the fixer.
It’s a lot like insider trading. A popular tactic of the syndicate is to put large sums for a goal between the 70th and 75th minute. A late penalty, if the referee is corrupted, is also popular. A high-street bookmaker is able to guard against such corruption because such a run of cash would be considered a suspicious betting pattern and betting would be stopped. For a company such as SBO, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.
It owes its position and popularity because it never turns down a gamble on any sport. But when such massive sums are being placed on games that would be considered “small fry”, trying to find malpractice is akin to the search for a needle in a haystack.
However, it is debatable as to how hard investigators are looking. An FA investigation into claims of corruption in a Championship match between Norwich City and Derby County in 2008 faltered when licensed Asian bookmakers refused to reveal betting patterns.
Three betting markets in Asia
The most popular form of betting in Asia. Teams are handicapped according to their form, so that a stronger team must win by more goals for a bet to be successful. Handicaps typically range from one-quarter goal to several goals, in increments of half or even quarter-goals.
Gamblers are asked to guess whether there will be more than 2.5 goals in a match or fewer. Other “ranges” of goals are available to bet on. Thanks to odds changing second by second, the market offers a clear opportunity for fixers to make vast amounts if a team have agreed to concede only one goal.
The wager which we are all most familiar. Who will win the match? Or will it be a draw? As simple as that.
Ed Hawkins is an award-winning betting journalist whose book Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld was shortlisted for the recent William Hill Sports Book of the Year