Malaysian sports gamblers are arguably the most harrassed on earth, with police raids almost continuously a part of the betting scene as the government seeks to impose its bans on all forms of sports betting except horseracing. Yet despite this constant threat, little seems to deter Malaysian punters from betting - and none are more avid gamblers than the football fans, many of whom follow international top teams.
With this week's team draws for the World Cup next year in South Africa, the interest reached even higher levels, and experts say that illegal bookies are already preparing to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars on football's biggest spectacular.
Every year a large percentage of the estimated $10 billion made by illegal gaming syndicates comes from bets on international football matches, and in World Cup years this amount is bound to escalate. And despite bans and police action, football bookies, in particular, have continued to flourish by offering betting odds online, apparently shrugging off the possible five years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 ringgit ($57,150) which convicted illegal bookies face.
"In the old days, when everything was manual and they used papers and pens it was much easier to detect, but now everything is online, so it gets more challenging," an officer from the triads, betting and vice department at the national Bukit Aman police headquarters told the German Press Agency dpa.
The officer, who leads at least three raids on gambling and betting dens every month, said the number of betting syndicates and amounts involved have been increasing in recent years. The most popular matches involve games in the English and Spanish leagues and, of course, the World Cup, where the last edition in 2006 saw hundreds of millions of dollars laid down by punters.
The officer warned that police have plans to step up their enforcement raids leading up to the World Cup finals in June 2010. He agreed that Malaysia was one of the main hubs for illegal sports betting, but said it was a problem for other Asian nations as well with a high population of ethnic Chinese, who make up the bulk of the bookies and customers.
Malaysian Chinese triad gangs have long been linked to gambling syndicates and attempts to fix football matches in Britain.
The news agency reports that in the late 1990s, Malaysian criminals plotted to disrupt games in the English premiership by sabotaging floodlights at football grounds in order to score under betting rules that say if a game is abandoned after passing half time, certain bets have to be paid. Malaysian gangs have also been implicated in attempts to bribe players in the English premiership to fix games.
"It's a growing problem, not only in Malaysia, but in countries like Hong Kong and Singapore as well," the officer told dpa. "A lot of these syndicates seem to be operating from Malaysia but they always have international links, so the police work very closely with our counterparts in other countries."
One gambler probably summed up the average man-in-the-street's reaction to the bans: "Placing a bet is so convenient and easy that you sometimes forget it's illegal," he said.
Source: InfoPowa News