Match-fixing has always been linked to illegal gambling for two main reasons. Firstly, those facilitating the transfer of illegal bets are best placed and willing to indulge in match-fixing. Secondly, often players or officials who want to bet (in Asia or fearing risk of discovery) must bet through illegal channels which in turns puts them in a position to be exploited down the road. But the problem of illegal gambling is here to stay forever (yes, forever), unless all countries legalise, Even then, illegal bookmakers offer better odds, higher limits, payouts in much-wanted cash and they protect anonymity as a brucie-bonus.
The emergence of bitcoin bookmakers, whatsapp bookmaking, the ‘hawalah network’ of payout (often referred to as contra) shows the innovative lengths those will go to subvert the archaic anti-gambling laws which often serve to line the pockets of the few in government rather than the general population (Hong Kong Jockey Club excluded). Banning IP addresses (as has happened across South-East Asia), illegal gambling crackdowns (conveniently before major football championships) and banking restrictions have done little to stem the tidal wave. Nay, illegal gambling is on the rise, potentially correlated with the rise in gambling itself.
To show you how easy it is to navigate around the obstacles presented above, consider the following scenario. You make the acquaintance of a local bookmaker through a friend’s introduction or down the local casino or snooker hall (everyone gambles in a snooker hall). He gives you his number and tells you a website to look at when you want to place a bet. In the message you simply quote ‘1, 1, 100’. This refers to ‘selection 1, home, £100’. This isn’t exactly Enigma (quite a good film but I did want to punch Benedict Cumberbitch) and more complex codes can be sent. In reality you don’t even need a code as the NSA aren’t prioritising your bet over ISIS. Anyway, having won your bet, you meet in the park the following day and collect your winnings.
‘This is not scalable’ you cry. Of course not. Your local bookmaker is hardly going to go to the park every day to settle your measly bet; but the system works. And the commodity the ‘dealer’ is carrying is legal - cash. This system, though a tad more intricate, is how bookmaking works across South East Asia. Throw in a First Cagayan license from the Philippines, Skype customer service, casino chip payout, cash being moved into Macau and we have a business. Occasionally the business takes a hit - bad credit, employees locked up or premises raided but life goes on. It has been like this for decades and that’s without thinking outside the box. So here we go.
I recently thought of a way to operate a wholly illegal bookmaker, to the letter of the law, perfectly legally. Whilst someone is free to copy my idea, I wouldn’t advise it. Do it in Hong Kong and a law will materialise to stop you; do it in Thailand and the police will be shaking you down. But the principles show the incredibly difficult task governments have in banning illegal betting.
You are the owner of a pawn shop or electronics store whereby only members can buy (similar to CostCo). A man or woman who fancies a bet ambles into your store and selects an item, conveniently priced at the amount he would like to bet plus an arbitrary cost to cover the store’s costs (a breakeven sale where the customer does in fact take something home). As the transaction is made, the customer mentions a bet he happens to fancy. ‘I quite like the three dog in race two’. A store worker places the selection on a twitter feed or even a public blog. It’s just a customer giving his tip, you know.
If the selection loses, the bettor is not seen until their next bet. At least they bought something with their losses eh? If they win, there are many payout options! 1) store credit is given to purchase items which can then be sold back to the shop for cash. This sale of goods is perfectly reasonable with many pawn and electronic shops buying goods. 2) the store operates a members’ raffle and it conveniently is awarded to that winning bettors’ account (this can happen many many times per day) 3) the item originally bought is returned (it’s faulty sir). Cash is awarded but mistakenly extra cash is returned.
All of the above is completely ridiculous. But the books wouldn’t be difficult to cook. And yet, this is in broad daylight in a first world country with a twitter feed revealing the bets. Now consider a bookmaker operating in a closed ghetto in Jakarta, a casino in Macau with a hundred persons on its payroll, anonymous VPNs, encrypted calls, fake money, bitcoin (what the fuck really is bitcoin), more runners than a marathon and no worldwide government agency interesting in illegal gambling. What do you have? The potential for mass organised illegal gambling. We are in fact already there now. In five more years, there’ll be robot couriers with your payout.