Europe betting firms 'less at risk from fixing'

A rigorous integrity system, clear audit trails and information sharing with sports federations mean European betting firms are less at risk than Asian counterparts from gamblers hoping to profit from match-fixing, three British-based firms said on Tuesday.

An inquiry by European police forces, the European anti-crime agency Europol, and national prosecutors has uncovered about 680 suspicious matches allegedly fixed as part of a global betting scam run from Singapore.

They included qualifying games for the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League although many of the suspicions were already known.

Britain's two biggest bookmakers, William Hill and Ladbrokes, are members of the European Sports Security Association (ESSA), an organisation established in 2005 by leading European betting operators to detect and report suspicious betting patterns in sport.

In 2011 there were 69 irregular incidents identified by ESSA, of which eight turned out to be suspicious. Some 45 percent of the alerts came from football betting.

The figures represented a slight increase from 2010 when there were 58 irregular incidences, and four suspicious alerts.

ESSA chairman, Mike O'Kane of Ladbrokes, said a whole series of triggers "hopefully keeps the bad people out of the licensed operators".

"If you want to fix a match for serious financial gain, hopefully you steer clear of European operators," he told Reuters.

"We have 15 sets of eyes looking at transactions."

Asian betting operators were more vulnerable, O'Kane said, because the sheer volume of betting across that continent made it harder to spot fixing.

"In Asia, liquidity is so much bigger. The typical Asian bookmaker can get 8-10 million euros on a game of football. They are dealing with Asia and it's a very big market," he said.

"Regulation is in the eye of the beholder. A bookmaker in Manila has got a licence even if we may not think that regulation is to the standard we see in Europe."

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O'Kane said Asian gamblers often passed a bet on to an agent while "big companies don't always deal with the end customer".

"They don't have the "know your customer" system that we have in Europe," he said.

William Hill PR director Kate Miller echoed those views and said the problem of match-fixing exposed by Europol emanated from Asia.

"It should be made clear that the corruption exposed is linked to Far East-based criminals and corrupt sports people," she said.

"At William Hill, our in-house risk management systems provide a sensitive barometer for all our trading markets, and will flag-up any anomalies or unexpected betting.

"It is highly unlikely that anything untoward will come to any of the licensed bookmakers. It is more likely to disappear into places where there is normally a prohibition on betting."

London-based Betfair, the world's largest betting exchange, has signed a Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with the governing bodies of 56 sports, including world football's FIFA and European football's UEFA, and will pass on names, betting details and how accounts are funded when suspicions are raised.