Mohan Murti

Inveterate gamblers

Mohan Murti | Updated on May 28, 2013 Published on May 28, 2013

Match-fixing is not uncommon in European football.

“It can be argued that man's instinct to gamble is the only reason he is still not a monkey up in the trees”.

Mario Puzo, Inside Las Vegas

The gambling instinct has its roots in evolution and is almost certainly as old as man can remember. In the Mahabharata, even Yudishthira, who was the epitome of truthfulness and righteousness, was 'lured' by Duryodhana and Shakuni to gamble away his kingdom, and later, even his wife.

In Europe too, the roots of many of the most popular gambling games date back hundreds of years. In the middle ages, Craps – known then as “Hazard” – was popular among aristocrats. Dice games that were popular during the Crusades in the Middle East, were imported to Europe alongside spices and exotic fruits. Europeans believe that prohibition can never been a solution and will never serve to protect the people who indulge – whether it is gaming or betting.

So, betting and gambling is legal across most of Europe. For instance, an average 26 million Europeans buy lottery tickets each week, signifying that gambling is not only acceptable, but a part of Europe's culture. And, the interests of gamblers and betters in Europe are served through strict regulation, information and codes of conduct.

Across Europe, there are many state-run betting organisations which provide the highest level of security and assurance, except in Germany where football betting is illegal. Online football betting in the Spain, Norway, Sweden and United Kingdom is completely legal and there is no tax to be paid on winnings.

Italy has a state-run betting monopoly but demands from the EU have pushed the Italians to become more open in recent years. There is nothing to stop you from betting on football online in Italy and again, winnings are not taxed. In Denmark, while it is legal to gamble, there is a whopping 45 per cent tax to be paid out on any internet winnings.

Leading Europe's betting numbers is the UK, with more than 200 casinos in place. France is a close second with 189 casinos, including 15,000 slots installed. The single largest casino is still in Monte Carlo, Le Café de Paris, featuring 15 table games and 1,200 electronic gaming machines. In all, the European Union has been spending 0.55 per cent of its GDP on gambling! These days, with access to the internet, it is possible to place bets across the world, instantly and so, the global online betting market has grown considerably in the past years from around €16 billion in 2004 to an estimated €50 billion in 2012.

The global gambling industry is valued at around €400 billion and in this, the European gambling industry accounted for about €100 billion . It is seen that Europe has serious problems too, in spot-fixing and match-fixing fraud in sport. Unfortunately, only certain EU Member States have a definition of “fraud and match-fixing” in criminal law. Europe's most important sport football is brutally tainted by malpractices and the involvement of international organised crime. Many match-fixing cases have been brought to light all over Europe. .

Last year, the Italian A and B Leagues had over 50 arrests for alleged match fixing for gambling purposes. Matches have been rigged among others in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Finland. Within Europe, It has become clear that criminal organisations have deeply penetrated the football establishment. Almost 700 matches worldwide, including Champions League ties and World Cup qualifiers, were targeted by gambling gangs tied to a criminal syndicate based in Singapore. According to European Police Agency – Europol, 380 of these 700 suspicious match results have been identified in Europe.

Yes, players and referees who are caught are banned for life but then, criminals are out there free – they get no sentence as they operate from offshore sites with little or, no oversight by the law. Therefore, European States have taken it upon themselves to lead a co-ordinated and coherent fight against match-fixing.

The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany.

Published on May 28, 2013
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