The Laws of the Pack. The betting shop business in Russia is still strongly influenced by crime
“I am 100% sure that you know who plays fixed matches.” Aleksandr Bubnov shocked the football-supporting Russian public a couple of years ago with this statement. The former player of the USSR national football team is now working as a TV pundit and is considered perhaps the most outrageous man in this sphere in Russia. His words were addressed to Oleg Zhuravsky, honorary president of the betting company ‘Liga Stavok’ and one of the most influential people in the betting business in Russia.
Zhuravsky tried to sue Bubnov after this accusation but it led to nothing. However, the ‘Liga Stavok’ boss is perhaps the most debated figure by fans of conspiracy theories. Mr Zhuravsky has numerous accusations against him due to his connections with officials in Vladimir Putin’s government and his friendship with ‘big names’ in that Russian government. Furthermore, his name has been discussed by Russian media for many years in connection with scandals surrounding the redistribution of market betting.
Zhuravsky is an authoritative figure and the word ‘authority’ in Russia today is synonymous with something powerful and indisputably associated with crime. It has just so happened over the years that the betting business in Russia cannot be subject to ‘guardianship’ by criminal gangs. There is no such evidence but it is rumored that no casual bettors die when licensed Russian bookmakers pay a double ‘tribute’; a formal, invisible tax into the budget of criminals.
“The top-12 operators now control about 65-70% of the European gambling market,” said Paul Leyland of ‘Bookmakers Ratings’ and the founder of the ‘Regulus Partners’ consulting company. “Yes, they are under constant surveillance by public authorities – both fiscal and police but the rest of the market is much less visible. There are often a lot of things that should ideally become part of criminal investigations. ”
Under the condition of anonymity, a top manager of one of the post-Soviet betting companies told ‘Bookmakers Ratings’ that black market gambling, mostly the online segment, is now clearly divided between the criminal gangs but this more often than not differs on a national level.
“Many small bookmakers from Romania, Poland, the former Yugoslavia, are now under the control of Albanian criminals. In southern Europe they often meet with local ‘watchers’ and in Italy, black bookmaking is under the control of a few families from the Camorra,” he said. “People from the Balkans also tried to probe the situation in Russia, but their ambitions were instantly destroyed as this area has long been divided between local criminals.”
Among industry experts there is no single approach to bring the legislation by European states on the regulation of gambling to a common denominator. For example, Maarten Haijer, secretary general of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), says they have both hands on the uniform rules of the game. According to Haijer, a single gambling ‘code of laws’ in Europe will contribute to a more effective fight against black market betting.
At the same time, the department of internal market and services of the European Commission considers that Russia, like any other state on the continent, has the full right to self-determination in matters of gambling regulation.
Who draws their revolver quickest
Francesco Baranca, head of the public anti match fixing organization ‘Federbet’, has confirmed that there has been an unprecedented surge of activity by organizers of match-fixing in European football. During a speech last fall in Ukraine’s capital Kiev at the international gaming conference ‘Game ON’, he said that the monitors for the season 2014-2015 found that there were more than 50 matches in European football leagues, which can be classified as highly suspicious and this is during only one season.
“There was an unnaturally large amount of bets placed on Betfair and other betting companies as well as suspicious movement of odds on certain matches. All of this once again confirms the great interest of criminals in using illegal betting.” There can be no doubt that this Italian lawyer specializes in countering the introduction of crime into European football.
“It is quite logical,” agreed Leyland. “Where there is a large niche market uncontrolled by the state, there will always be a serious interest on the part of criminals. The system of offshore jurisdictions for unlicensed bookmakers in most European countries is a great opportunity for criminals to use this favorable situation and control the huge cash flows. ”
In Russia it’s no mystery that the majority of business issues can be solved by ‘close’ contact with high-ranking officials, ‘sitting’ on the signature of licensing documents. At the federal level, such associations can be a real gold mine for the bookmakers who are unwilling to wait years for their investments in the business to return to them in the form of super-profits.
There is little doubt that some officials of Russian bookmakers lead a double life. On the one hand they are very public people, who are not against the media interest in the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of their gambling business. On the other, they do not know of any sentiment towards ‘tough guys’ who brought the murderous times of the 1990s where the ones who often survived in Russian business (and it should be taken literally) were the strongest. Or the one who shoots fastest.
Marc Pedersen, director of business development at the consulting company Better Collective, agrees that gambling, and the betting segment in particular, has historically been linked to organized crime. ‘Russia is not the exception here,’ he states.
He summed up by telling ‘Bookmakers Ratings’: “However, reasonable government legislation, an appropriate level of regulation and a competent PR-campaign in any self-respecting state over time compresses the black gambling market; giving the territory to legal businesses. In this practice, there is nothing unprecedented or unattainable.”
Written by Pavel Glumin, translated by Thomas Giles
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