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Illegal Betting Threatens Asia: A Menace to Sports and Finances

Illegal betting in Asia is flourishing, with China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand standing out as the largest markets for illicit gambling due to the existence of limited or ineffective legal markets, according to Martin Purbrick, Chairman of the Council on anti-illegal betting & related financial crime for the Asian Racing Federation (ARF). This revelation comes in the wake of a report by ARF and The Mekong Club, shedding light on how illegal gambling in the region serves as a financial resource for human trafficking operations.

Illegal Betting Threatens Asia: A Menace to Sports and Finances

Purbrick underscored that these illegal betting groups have undergone a transformation over the past decade, evolving into transnational organized crime entities that operate across Asia. Unlike their predecessors, these groups now leverage online platforms to facilitate illegal betting activities, covering a broader spectrum of regions beyond Asia.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the annual turnover of the unregulated, underground market to be as high as $1.7 trillion. The ARF stressed that this market grows at a faster rate than the legal market, primarily due to fewer restrictions on product offerings, advertising, and pricing. The complexity and international nature of online betting operations make it challenging for authorities to combat effectively.

The report emphasized the role of the Philippines as a major hub for 'licensed' but unregulated online betting operators since the mid-2000s. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the expansion of these operations to other countries, such as Cambodia and Myanmar, due to increased pressure from the Chinese government.


Purbrick underscored the broader societal impacts of illegal betting, stating that the vast amounts of money generated through these activities need to be laundered into seemingly legitimate industries. This process distorts and corrupts markets globally, posing a significant threat to sports integrity.

Moreover, the report identified illegal betting operations as one of the most substantial threats to sports integrity. The lack of cooperation and transparency in these markets provides an ideal platform for sports manipulation, allowing competent match-fixers to exploit unregulated betting sites for large wagers without oversight.

To tackle transnational illegal betting groups, Purbrick proposed a two-pronged approach. Firstly, law enforcement agencies must collaborate internationally for joint operations aimed at disrupting illegal betting operations and identifying and restraining the financial proceeds laundered from these illegal activities. Secondly, legal markets must offer effective betting products that can compete with the illegal market. This requires flexibility in legal betting products, such as the inclusion of various sports and competitions, along with competitive prices not burdened by excessively high betting taxes.

The ARF, which established an Anti-Illegal Betting Taskforce in 2017, continues its efforts to combat illegal betting, a global problem linked to organized crime, money laundering, and sports integrity issues. The organization is committed to discussing the growth of illegal betting, protecting the integrity of racing and other sports, understanding the negative social impact, and exploring government measures to combat this significant criminal problem.

This comprehensive overview by Purbrick sheds light on the challenges posed by illegal betting in Asia and underscores the urgent need for collaborative, international efforts to curb these activities and protect the integrity of sports and financial systems. The detailed analysis provides a nuanced understanding of the issue, emphasizing the evolving nature of illegal betting groups and the broader societal implications of their activities.



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