Asian Racing Federation webinar: ‘Our role is to keep the criminals out of pocket’ 

The Asian Racing Federation (ARF) today hosted a webinar focused on organised crime in illegal gambling, and how the legal betting industry and law enforcers can help combat those issues. 

asia in depth asian racing federation

Panel host:  

– Martin Purbrick: Chairman, Council on Anti-Illegal Betting & Related Financial Crime at Asian Betting Council.  

Panel Guests:  

– James Porteous: Senior Due Diligence & Research Manager, The Hong Kong Jockey Club, (Research Head for ARF Council)

– Luca Esposito Poleo: Executive Director at World Lottery Association (WLA) and Council Member at ARF 

– Claudio Marinelli: Operations Coordinator (pro tempore) at Interpol’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Center 

– John Langdale: Expert on transnational crime and financial crime at Macquarie University’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology

Southeast Asia has a huge unregulated gambling industry, which in turn increases the overall scale of the black market. However, the growth of the black market affects the whole of society, not just gambling businesses.  

Langdale kicked off proceedings by saying: “Growth in transnational crime means you have a huge amount of money getting laundered. There are 350 legal (land-based) casinos in Southwest Asia, but they have a much larger number of illegal ones involved in the process of transnational crime.” 

Langdale also mentioned that there has been a growth of online illegal betting in Myanmar: “As law enforcement closes them down, they just set up in a new location. Recently, quite a major scandal has risen in Thailand in regards to illegal drugs being smuggled in from Myanmar, as well as child trafficking and money laundering, so there is a growth of transnational crime in Asia. 

“I don't think there are any winners out of this apart from the criminals and it's something we need much more discussion on regionally from all the countries involved in China, Asia, Australia and elsewhere to discuss these sorts of problems because they are affecting all of us.” 

Purbrick agreed that there is a large organised crime issue in Asia: “The lawless zone around the Mekong area is causing a huge problem when it comes to organised crime and illegal betting.” 

All criminals' priorities are to make money off their activities and the great amount of money involved in the sports industry gives them a very large and exciting platform to exploit. - Claudio Marinelli

Interpol has been keeping a close eye on illegal sports betting, in particular, football. Interpol has an operation called ‘SOGA.’ The operation investigates big sporting events such as the World Cup, for any illegal betting, or suspicious activity. 

Marinelli said: “During the World Cup last year, we worked around 2-3 months from the start of the preoperative phase and then the tactical phase, through to the real operation phase. 19 countries joined this effort. 

“Still – illegal gambling is considered as a main driver for match-fixing and of course all criminals' priorities are to make money off their activities and the great amount of money involved in the sports industry gives them a very large and exciting platform to exploit.” 

He continued: “We should see sport as an environment of fun, this is not the case. Sport is an industry nowadays which makes a lot of money and of course criminals are interested in taking advantage of this market because of the large amount of money it generates.” 

Criminals are constantly searching for grey areas in industries to prevent any sort of legal retribution, or they look for industries in which they can go undetected, to make the most money with the least risk. However, irrespective of risk value, criminals are becoming more advanced and tech-savvy, so catching up with them is becoming more difficult. 

Marinelli pointed out: “We are living in a time of crisis, wars, pandemics – all of these crises do not stop criminals exploiting what is available. A lot of people are trafficked to then be employed in fraud schemes such as big call centres; everyone on the panel has received calls in this way. Who is making this call? Who is behind this? And how are these people forced to work on this kind of fraud?  

“These people are behind human trafficking and fraud schemes; it gives you an idea how money is generated and by which means, in times of crisis more than before.” 

Speaking on Interpol’s perspective, Marinelli said: “From our side, what we have seen from the operation is that there has been huge use of technology which is helping a lot of criminals and they are becoming more and more skilled in this direction. 

“They are also using the skills available in the criminal world and applying their technical skills to now work in the domain of legal betting. This includes the use of automatic betting machines and protected information being intercepted and exploited – so skills applied by criminals have been incredibly increasing over the last year. “ 

We are living in a time of crisis, wars, pandemics - all of these crises do not stop criminals exploiting what is available. - Claudio Marinelli

However, Interpol arrested 1,400 people across Europe and Asia back in 2021 during an operation SOGA, so whatever Interpol is doing, is working. 

Marinelli explained: “The prevention function of this global operation (SOGA) cannot be underestimated. Criminal networks have been much more careful due to the fact that the global community, as well as law enforcement, have come together – giving criminal networks an indication they must be very, very careful when committing crimes. 

“As soon as you deprive criminals of their finances it gives them a real hard kick. This is our role – to try and disrupt all of the finances that are involved – and keep the criminals out of pocket.” 

One of the main effects illegal betting has on the legal industry is on the revenue; meaning legal operators are losing a lot of money. Porteous commented: “The topic of illegal betting is really important for our members because illegal operations disrupt the whole industry's operations. Illegal operators don't pay taxes, growing a great loss of money for the gambling industry.” 

However, when it comes to ways of detecting and combating illegal betting, it remains a very simple question with a complicated answer, as there are a lot of factors to consider. Porteous stated:  

“That is a simple question with a complicated answer. What is illegal betting in your region and are you trying to detect illegal betting from customers or operators? 

“Operators may be licensed offshore and not in your jurisdiction or completely unlicensed and how do you take them down? You need to know the parameters of your organisation and jurisdictions. Our message at the ARF Council is that it requires widespread global collaboration between multiple stakeholders and licensees.” 

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