What appear to be exaggerated claims of a proliferation of online sportsbetting websites is worrying international sports authorities according to a report from Agence France Presse this week. The authorities claim that there are now an estimated 15 000 such sites including some 13 000 illegal venues, moving revenues of an estimated Euro 15 billion a year.
Reporting that these numbers have now triggered an official reaction, AFP quotes International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge, who last year compared the gambling issue to the gangrene caused by doping in sports and suggested the formation of a world surveillance agency based on the model of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The AFP report claims that the "explosion of Internet sportsbetting" is controlled mostly from Asia, although it does not substantiate this information. Commenting that gambler losses either fairly or as a consequence of fraud, are threatening the credibility of sport, AFP quotes Declan Hill, a journalist and British expert on the problem, who alleges that the amount of corruption in global sports has increased almost 100-fold in the past five years thanks to Internet-based gambling.
"Ten years ago, national lotteries controlled 100 percent of the sports (betting) market," Hill said. "Today, the French National Lottery, for example, controls only 25 percent of the French market, but their number of clients has multiplied by four times," he said.
The problem has continued almost unabated since 2006, when a study conducted by the independent Information Systems Security Consulting firm warned of the criminalisation of Internet sports betting, the AFP report continues.
"The sector of online gaming is today mostly controlled by criminal groups," the security firm said in the study commissioned by a group of European state lotteries. Players had been approached and threatened, referees influenced, and matches bought, it found.
AFP also points to money laundering as a threat, claiming that the amount of money traded on a single website can surpass Euros 100 000 for a match in the third division football in Romania, or even the first division of the Czech women's league.
"Experts estimate that 85 percent of these websites have been created for the sole purpose of "washing away" dirty money", it claims, without identifying its sources.
The AFP piece identifies tennis, football and cricket federations as "…the pioneers in the fight against harmful effects of illegal gambling." However, it points out that these same federations are trying to secure a financial stake for themselves.
Each year, French gamblers place sports bets worth more than Euro 510 million on the Internet. Of this, only around Euro 12 million is believed to be legal, through the French National Lottery, the only authorised online sports betting operator in the country.
Following the example of the French Tennis Federation, a number of sports bodies are now trying to claim part of the lucrative Internet betting industry on the model of television broadcasting agreements. The federation has accused various sites of offering illegal betting in violation of the exclusive rights it has to commercially exploit its events.