Betting experts want new corruption-busting agency

Associated Press reports from Zurich in Switzerland this week that organisations that regulate sports betting are calling for an international agency to coordinate the fight against illegal gambling and match-fixing.

Worth tens of billions of dollars each year to criminal gangs, illegal gambling ranks alongside doping as the biggest threat to the integrity of sport, speakers said at a conference in Switzerland.

"What you will need in years to come is something like WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), an agency that investigates betting-related corruption across all the sports," said Paul Scotney, head of the British Horseracing Authority's integrity unit.

The AP report says that land and online gambling companies want global sports organisations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to help persuade lawmakers to regulate national betting markets.

"FIFA and the IOC obviously have huge power deciding which countries will receive the next World Cup or Olympic Games," said Norbert Teufelberger, chief executive of online operator Bwin International. "Our idea would be that only countries with a modern, regulated sports betting regime can be part of that family and organise those events."

Also reporting on the conference, Reuters revealed that illegal gambling and match-fixing attempts pose a bigger threat to soccer than doping, according to FIFA betting experts.

"It is a big threat ... in the special case of football even bigger than doping because of the perception it leaves in the minds of the public," said Detlev Zenglein, analyst for the Early Warning System (EWS) set up by soccer's ruling body FIFA to monitor betting patterns.

"Every time there are rumours it sticks in people's heads and lessens their enthusiasm for sport because they think they might have been cheated."

According to EWS officials at the conference, illegal betting could account for more than 100 billion of an estimated $350 billion revenue generated by gambling worldwide.

"That's the general industry reckoning for how much revenue, meaning the total turnover minus winnings paid out, was collected in the illegal Asian betting markets this year," EWS strategy head Wolfgang Feldner said. "Our main fight is against those markets. In Europe the industry is highly regulated, they have their rules and they are fighting with us against threats such as match-fixing.

"We have to make the public aware though that in Asia there is something going on that attacks the integrity of the sport."

Feldner said online gambling — an industry that took an estimated $20 billion in bets in 2008 — and new types of wagers in betting exchanges have made betting faster and tougher to track.

"A potential cheater knows he can bring a lot of money into the market in a short time," Feldner said.

The sports betting industry believes legalised gambling is needed to track wagers and keep information on clients.

"Prohibition drives customers into the black markets," Teufelberger said, pointing to a U.S. ban on online gambling in 2006. "We have respected the rules but we are lobbying to reopen the market."

According to several congress speakers, the biggest difficulty lies in connecting unusual betting patterns with actual attempts to rig results.

"We have had more than 25 UEFA-organised matches in the last two seasons that were very likely manipulated but the investigations are still ongoing," said Carsten Koerl, chief executive of bet monitoring firm Sportradar. "What is needed in Europe is a specific cross-border law for match-fixing so investigators know how to proceed."

European soccer's ruling body UEFA has previously confirmed it is investigating matches, without giving details of the clubs or competitions involved.

International Olympic Committee ethics commission secretary Paquerette Girard Zappelli told the congress there had also been no sign of unusual gambling during this year's Beijing Games where EWS also monitored betting traffic.

President Sepp Blatter said FIFA would work with the betting industry to safeguard football's values but also warned against scaremongering, citing recent allegations of match-rigging at the World Cup.

"It was written and said there was match-fixing without one item of evidence," Blatter said.

"In FIFA we are prepared to fight for clean, proper and fair sport but we cannot stand people abusing football or using it as a platform to spread new scandals when finally there are none."

A University of Beijing study estimated $90 billion is bet illegally in China each year. Lawrence Wong of the international police intelligence agency Interpol said crime syndicates linked to money laundering and forced prostitution operations controlled 95 percent of the Asian trade in illegal gambling on soccer matches.

"You cannot set a limit on international co-operation," he said.

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