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Illegal Betting in Southeast Asia: A Multibillion-Dollar Hub Funding Crime

Illegal betting activities in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos, have been identified as major sources of funding for drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises, according to a comprehensive report jointly produced by the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) and The Mekong Club, a non-profit organization focused on combatting modern slavery and related crimes.

Illegal Betting in Southeast Asia: A Multibillion-Dollar Hub Funding Crime

The report focuses on the four key regions, emphasizing the significant role of illegal betting in bankrolling criminal operations, corrupting governments, and generating enormous illicit profits. It estimates that the annual turnover generated by these illicit activities in the mentioned areas could reach an astonishing $425 billion. The report also highlights that Greater China is a significant player in the global illegal betting market, potentially accounting for at least 50 percent of the market. The global illegal betting market is believed to have an estimated yearly turnover as high as $1.7 trillion. The report particularly points out the role of the Philippines, which has been a hub for such activities.

The ARF report offers a disturbing insight into the vast extent of these illegal activities in Southeast Asia and their severe consequences. It suggests that between 75,000 and 250,000 individuals work in the offshore betting and cyber-scam industries across the four jurisdictions covered in the report. Most alarmingly, it indicates that tens of thousands of these workers are subjected to modern slavery conditions, as they are often coerced into labor and kept under duress.

The individuals involved in these illegal betting operations have a long history of association with organized crime. These operations have been active since at least the 1990s and have gained significant momentum with the rise of online gambling, enabling them to tap into a global market. The report emphasizes the overlapping nature of these operations, which often involve not only illegal betting but also fraud, forced labor, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, and other criminal activities.

The report suggests that illegal betting is far from the only factor facilitating human trafficking across Southeast Asia, but it remains an important and growing illicit business line for many organized criminal groups involved in such trafficking. It is increasingly expanding across Asia and beyond, indicating the urgency of addressing this issue.

In summary, this report underscores the substantial role that illegal betting plays in facilitating human trafficking across Southeast Asia. It has not only grown into a trillion-dollar illegal industry but has also funded organized crime. The findings indicate that efforts to regulate or profit from these activities have often resulted in widespread corruption and concentration of these operations in self-contained compounds or special economic zones, where local authorities might be hesitant to intervene or investigate. The far-reaching impact of these operations on various sectors and society as a whole is a grave concern, demanding attention from authorities and organizations seeking to address this complex and growing issue in the region.

This report brings to light the extensive and interconnected world of illegal betting and its implications for criminal activities in Southeast Asia, shedding light on the urgent need for coordinated efforts to combat these activities and protect vulnerable individuals from exploitation and abuse.


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