Sports betting, friends and foes

Even as New Jersey opens up sports betting, Singapore offers a law to suppress online gambling to help end the country's reputation as home to match-fixing worldwide, especially on European soccer games.

Reuters
Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal sits in a Finnish courtroom in 2011, accused of bribery related to match-fixing of soccer games. Since his conviction, he has helped to clean up the sport.

It may sound strange, but the question must be asked: Will New Jersey take a lesson from Singapore?

On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a surprise move aimed at helping Atlantic City’s ailing casinos. In defiance of federal law, he decided to allow the casinos to accept wagers on most sports events; New Jersey will be the first state to do so outside of Nevada.

His action happened on the same day that Singapore decided it was tired of its notoriety as a global center for online sports betting and the related crime syndicates that fix sports matches worldwide, especially soccer. The government in Asia’s wealthy island-state released a proposed law that, short of outright banning online gambling, would restrict it in ways no other country has.

The Singapore measure, expected to take effect next year, would restrict remote gambling in three ways: It would block access to such websites, ban advertisements for online gambling, and prevent payments to and from the sites. Only a regulated, nonprofit entity based in Singapore could offer online gambling. And it must turn excess revenue over to a charity. Hefty fines and jail time for violators would help enforce the law.

The country’s actions have two purposes: to shut down the match-fixing rings tied to sports betting and to protect young people and gambling addicts from easy access to online betting.

Despite its reputation for clean government, Singapore has seen a string of arrests of high-profile criminals charged with fixing soccer matches, mainly in Europe. With satellite TV, Asians have taken to watching European soccer (football). And Singapore has proved to be an easy portal for betting on games. Its total online betting is estimated to exceed $400 million.

Last year, a probe by Europol investigators found 680 matches worldwide were fixed by syndicates with links to Singapore. Asia-dominated criminal groups are laundering about $140 million a year through illegal sports betting, according to the International Centre for Sport Security.

Since 2007, more than 8,400 people have been arrested worldwide for soccer match-fixing. In 2011, Interpol and FIFA, the international soccer governing body, set up an “Integrity in Sport” unit to find new ways to stamp out the problem.

Singapore is now doing its part. But New Jersey, whose action could lead other American states to follow suit, is going in the opposite direction. Governments that rely on tax revenue and job creation from gambling need to wake up to its effects, especially if sports wagers are allowed.

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