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Asian Authorities Fear World Cup Gambling

2 May 2002

BANGKOK, Thailand- Fearing a surge of illegal gambling on the World Cup, authorities are cracking down on bookmakers and bettors in what has become a billion-dollar industry in Asia.

With South Korea and Japan the co-hosts for the first World Cup in Asia, police expect heavy wagering on the tournament, which begins May 31 and ends June 30.

The illegal gambling isn't restricted to back alleys or networks of bookmakers, runners, collectors and enforcers, with cash exchanged in paper bags. Cell phones and laptop computers have made bookies harder to detect.

But police in East Asia and Southeast Asia are determined to curb the illicit gambling.

In the Pearl River Delta region encompassing Hong Kong, Macau and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, police agreed to exchange information and share operations aimed at breaking up gambling syndicates.

Betting on soccer is illegal in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Betting on domestic league games at government-controlled betting shops is permitted in Singapore.

Singapore police expect a surge in gambling on the World Cup and plan a "3-Es" campaign - educating the public, engineering a system of controls and enforcing the law.

Thai police considered delaying TV coverage of World Cup games to deter gamblers, but the plan was scuttled by angry fans and TV executives. Instead, state-run telecommunication companies and banks will help monitor phones and bank accounts of suspected bookies.

Hundreds of arrests for illegal gambling have been made in the last 12 months.

Singapore police said 18 people, including a syndicate leader and its bookkeeper, were arrested during April raids on a gambling ring that had a daily turnover exceeding $500,000.

Anyone arrested and convicted of illegally accepting bets on offshore soccer games faces a fine of up to $110,730 and mandatory imprisonment for up to five years.

The bettor also faces fines of up to $2,760 or imprisonment for six months.

Hong Kong authorities arrested 120 people for illegal soccer betting and seized $3.14 million in wagered cash in 2001. During the 1998 World Cup, 49 people were arrested and $7.42 million was seized.

Hong Kong's maximum penalty for accepting illegal bets is seven years in jail and a fine of $640,000.

Gambling in any form is forbidden by Chinese law and anyone caught organizing gambling activity can be fined and sentenced to three years in prison.

Thailand Police Chief Gen. Sant Sarutanonda has ordered raids on suspected premises. Though gambling is illegal - with the exception of a state-sponsored lottery - betting on boxing and soccer is common.

A recent study by Assumption University in Thailand estimated that $204 million would be spent on gambling in the country during the World Cup.

A Macau-based Web site claims to be the largest gambling network in Asia, although it can offer only information on the Internet and can't accept bets, according to Macau's Gambling Inspection and Coordination Bureau spokesman Patrick Cheang.

Only SLOT, a government-registered monopoly on soccer betting, can accept bets, including those from outside Macau. But foreigners placing bets are responsible for ensuring they are not violating laws in their own countries.

With soccer betting outlawed in many parts of Asia, gamblers are turning to the Internet, which is difficult to police. British bookmaking firms Ladbrokes and William Hill accept millions of dollars from Asian clients by telephone and the Internet.

Nic Rust, commercial director for online betting at Ladbrokes, said online betting was a multibillion-dollar industry and gamblers from countries such as Hong Kong and Thailand contributed heavily to it.

Rust said Ladbrokes expected 35 percent of its World Cup online betting revenue to come from East and Southeast Asia.

"We take millions each weekend from Asian gamblers who have to wait up until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in their countries to watch matches live from Europe," Rust said. "With the World Cup taking place in the proper time zone for their region, it will really accelerate the market."

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