An Italian reporter pays a visit to one of Singapore's many low-commission, high-confidentiality betting outlets. Investigators say bets were placed in these locations in a match-fixing scandal involving top players now undermining fan confidence
SINGAPORE - At Singapore Pools, you can place a bet on any sports match, for any amount. Opening a local bank account is necessary only for very high bets, and the gambler's privacy is always guaranteed. According to Italian investigators, these gambling agencies associated with Singapore's national gaming operator were at the center of a soccer scandal that has shaken the top echelons of Italian soccer.
Italian prosecutors are investigating a group of people charged with trying to fix soccer matches – and most of them had gambled here in Singapore. Beppe Signori, a former striker for the Italian national team, is among those under investigation. The suspects are believed to have come to Singapore to bet because here the gaming operator charges only 2% commission, while in Italy the commission is 10%. Moreover, in Singapore, money trails cannot be traced out and there are no investigations when a single match attracts a suspicious number of bets.
A Singapore Pools flyer explains that a minimum payment of $3,000, and a Singapore address are required to become a "Premium" client. Then, the gambling can start, even on-line. The gambler must only provide a user-name, password, sporting event and amount of the bet.
Money moves directly from the Singapore bank account to the agency. In case of victory, more money comes back. There are no limits. The same flyers recommend not exaggerating with your wagers. A graph explains that the money used for gambling should just be a small percentage of your annual salary—around one-fifth what an average person would spend for movies. But for starters, the entrance fee to an agency costs 30 euros.
Singapore Pools has 400 branches in the city-state. The main one is at 1 Selegie Road. The entrance looks like a science museum. A tunnel illuminated in blue leads to a room full of screens. The sensation of being in a museum disappears quickly. Inside, 50 people are staring at a screen showing a Yokohama -Vegalta Sendai match, in Japan's premier soccer league. People here are rooting for their money. On the wall there is a defibrillator, in case someone has a heart attack.
Brokers help protect identity
"Here, there are no reasons for illegal betting," says Ruud, who works in the agency. He is wearing an FC Barcelona T-shirt. " But I'm a Liverpool fan;" he swears. Today gambling has just opened on the upcoming Italian soccer match, Bologna vs Inter of Milan.
"Illegal bookmakers would run away with the money," says Ruud. On the other hand, there are middlemen for foreign clients. "There are many brokers who mediate for the highest bets and guarantee the clients anonymity," says a worker at Agipro, an Italian gaming operator. In case of victory, the money goes back to the gambler through certain banks, often from Eastern Europe, and usually in cash.
Singaporean gaming operators aren't more generous than Europeans, they just charge a smaller commission, and are strict about protecting privacy. "Singapore Pools is committed to protect clients' privacy and personal data," reads an ad.
Signori and the other people under investigation were discovered only through telephone wiretaps in Italy. Investigators focused on a match of Inter of Milan vs Lecce. Signori gambled 150,000 euros on that one – and he lost. According to the investigators, his money could have been used to fix the match.
When asked if they knew that people in Italy may have tried to fix matches and gambled millions of euros on them from Singapore, locals say they know nothing. "Anyway, there is a ceiling on the total of bets. If not, we would risk failure," says Ruud. In the end, the universal rule of gambling is always the same: the bank always wins.
Read more from La Stampa in Italian
Photo - Singapore Pools