As Russia becomes the battlefield for 32 teams to prove their dominance in football, illegal betting is surging in Asia. Bettors are using platforms like WeChat and WhatsApp to place wagers and cryptocurrencies to earn obscurely.

Several companies often licensed in the Philippines have popped up illegally in Malaysia and Thailand where people are gearing up to bet millions of dollars’ in illegal gambling. A lack of legal gambling avenues and tax avoidance are being cited as the reasons behind this surge.

A Long History of Illicit Betting

Asia accounts for 80% of illegal gambling in the industry, which has an estimated $500 billion global volume, according to Transparency International. A Bloomberg report quoted Switzerland-based data company in sports wagering, Sportsradar AG, which claimed that the $1.8 trillion are placed in betting wages worldwide every year.

During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, law enforcement officers clamped down on several criminal gangs that operated sports betting rings worth more than $2.2 billion. Their operations were based in Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Hong Kong, and China.

This year, these activities are expected to grow further, due to closer time zones as compared to Brazil in 2014. Macau, which the biggest gambling city in the world, is expecting more voluminous wagers this season.

The illegal gambling facilitated through companies with offshore licenses, a majority of which originate in the Philippines. These sites do not follow domestic regulations in most Asian jurisdictions. Authorities in the Philippines have tried to curb the industry, but the number of sites in operation has increased over the years.

Russian football was the victim of match-fixing by bookies in the 1990s and early 2000s. Smaller and lesser-known teams often played fixed matches, and big sharks in the market decided the result of the match beforehand.

Analysts expect the sports betting industry in Russia to generate $11.8 billion this year, 65% of which will be contributed by illegal online betting. The market is also expected to triple in size in the next few years.

Concept about money spending in football, sports betting and manipulated fixed matches. Source: Shutterstock.com
A concept about money spending on football, sports betting and manipulated fixed matches. Source: Shutterstock.com

The Cryptocurrency and Social Media Mix

Social media and messaging platforms like WeChat are used by bookmakers to facilitate illegal betting. Macau Police have cracked down on gambling rings that operate via these popular apps.

Hong Kong has, reportedly, poured in HK$30 billion into the World Cup. Senior Inspector Raymond Chau Man-hin, who is from the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, believes that the authorities need to gather more advanced intelligence to crack these rings.

He explained:

“Gamblers place bets by making WhatsApp calls or leaving a voice note on instant messaging. Some mobile messenger apps can even destroy messages. This makes our investigations difficult. It takes us more time and complicates steps to examine a device and uncover or secure digital evidence.”

Many bookmakers are using digital currencies to evade detection by authorities and taxes. Several tiers of bookies are used to make the hierarchy more complicated and the masterminds more difficult to reach.

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