Argentine soccer embraces bookmakers in the face of the economic crisis

Written by ebookingservices

A cataract of advertisements from sports betting companies in the television broadcasts of the matches of the Professional League. The first sponsor of Argentine Football Association (AFA) and the national team related to the industry -BetWarrior, since May-. The new main sponsor on River’s shirt -Codere, since last Sunday- and on Vélez’s, the only Argentine team that will play the semifinal of the Copa Libertadores -Bplay, since the middle of last year, also a sponsor of Estudiantes, eliminated on Thursday in the quarterfinals. The Government of Alberto Fernández approved the online gaming houses in the second half of 2021 and almost immediately, in a few months, they jumped to the front page of money-hungry football: their arrival is a huge relief for clubs suffering from the slippery context of the Argentine economy.

The official arrival of the bets also triggers or makes visible the less healthy side of the issue, not only gambling or social legitimation, but also -in the sports part- the shadow of soccer players involved in alleged results fixing, a whisper that sounds in the shadows. Although ten websites have already been regulated – the law requires a partnership between an international firm and an Argentine firm – the illegal houses continue to operate and, experts in the area assure, they are still the majority. “It is a ratio of 5 to 1″, they detail.

Justice has been investigating since April an unprecedented confession in national football: players from promotion categories confessed to their teammates that, tempted by the money from betting -legal or illegal-, they converted goals against and generated penalties in their own area .

Players who cause the defeat of their club in exchange for receiving clandestine money happened and will continue to happen in different parts of the world and other sports: already in 2008, the Canadian journalist Declan Hill warned of gambling mafias in his book The Fix. However, until this year it was a suspicion that the tournaments organized by the AFA seemed to stay away from.

Unlike the main leagues in Europe – in Spain a regulation came into force in 2021 that prevents clubs from carrying bookmaker advertisements on their shirts, a decision that the Premier League will try to repeat with a vote to be held in September-, Argentina has just plunged into the same current of the region. Not only Conmebol has Betfair as a sponsor of continental tournaments since 2019: the commercial name of the First Division of Colombia is BetPlay Dimayor League; the tournament in Peru is called League 1 Betsson; the Series A of Ecuador is called LigaPro Betcris and in Brazil, although there are still no legalized licensees, the gray of the regulation allows 16 of the 20 teams in the First Division to carry betting advertisements on their shirts.

In the Argentine clubs that signed contracts with the already regulated licenses, they celebrate the arrival of the new source of income: River will receive 12.5 million dollars in the next four years. The treasurer of one of the main clubs in the country, who like the rest of those consulted for this article asked to keep his name confidential, says that “online gambling was regulated a few months ago in Buenos Aires, after a long time of trying, and the betting companies decided to publicize it”. “It is a new industry and its strategy is advertising. Perhaps they invest more than what the business gives them for now, but it is a strong bet and for the clubs, in a market so difficult due to inflation and the crisis, it implies relief. In addition, in Argentina what happened in Europe is far from happening, that the soccer players were less, ”he explains.

Experts on the subject reveal, however, that in Argentina there were First Division matches in which some soccer players scripted game actions to earn money from bets, although – they point out – they were isolated and distant cases: they mention an Argentine- Quilmes from more than 15 years ago in which the footballers of a team, encouraged by a midfielder who had returned from playing in Spain, bet on adding 11 corners during the 90 minutes. And indeed, according to a specialist with a good memory, that match totaled 11 corner kicks.

Exceptions aside, from inside the industry they guarantee that, given the exhaustive controls carried out by legalized companies, it is impossible for fraud to be carried out in Primera. The VAR -they add- is not a polluting element either. “Nobody says that sports betting is healthy, but there are also a thousand myths that don’t make sense,” contextualizes an employee.

“Bookmakers don’t fix matches. On the contrary: it suits them that no one knows what is going to happen. If it is known, they lose money”, adds an expert in the industry. “The protection mechanisms are many, even the bets are interrupted before each intervention of the VAR, sanction of penalties or free kicks with the risk of a goal. And there are also money limits for betting. That matches have been arranged in the Rise could exist before, it has nothing to do with the legalization of some houses this year: the mafias operate illegally, “he maintains, and rejects that there is a relationship between the licenses granted and the increasingly common scandals on the Ascent. Other connoisseurs, however, are much more skeptical: “In betting, Argentina was always 10 or 15 years behind, until now it was an oasis, but now the dance has begun and what is to come will be worse.”

The case of El Porvenir

The other side of landing on television screens and sponsorship is Ascent football. El Porvenir, a Buenos Aires club in the fourth category, presented four months ago to the Justice the confession of five soccer players who admitted to their teammates that they had “played backwards” in exchange for receiving money from the betting market. They were not the only cases: in 2022, the environment is aware of the suspicion about soccer players from different clubs from various promotion tournaments. Some were resolved in silence, away from the media noise: leaders asked soccer players to terminate their relationship with the club.

“You get a message telling you that something strange could happen, but you don’t pay attention to it: it seems to you that it can only happen to another club. But then you go back to see the games, atás cabos and, although you don’t have anything concrete, you do see many signs”, says the leader of a team in the category. Some of the players involved can hardly continue their careers in an ecosystem in which everyone knows each other. Others continued their careers thousands of miles away, in Asian countries too far away to cross the professional ethos of their players.

The case that the Justice received from El Porvenir serves as a test case to understand how the illegal business works: groups of gamblers -usually a combo between former players, former referees, representatives and club leaders- tempt soccer players with emergencies, especially those in the promotion categories with the greatest economic suffocation. Its operating mechanism is precise and effective. For there to be buyers – players who are the last link in a long chain – there have to be buyers. Those who bet thousands of dollars on Ascent need the cooperation of the footballers. And in the First C, where players earn from 220 to 370 dollars a month, some are tempted to win double or triple -up to 750 dollars- if they commit a penalty to the detriment of their team or ten times more -2,230 dollars- if They convert a goal against. “Think about it: 300 thousand pesos (Argentines) per goal and 100 thousand for the penalty. I’ll call you tomorrow”, a representative of the bettors told a player, according to what is read in the complaint filed by El Porvenir before the Justice.

To avoid scams, legal betting companies have control areas that ask for documentation, make video calls with facial recognition or intervene in mysterious circumstances. But some insiders of the industry also assure that they do not act for small amounts – which are not so small for Ascent salaries – and that bettors, in order not to raise suspicions, can also change their licensee game after game. Not to mention that, beyond the legalized houses, there are still a huge number of clandestine companies, usually in Europe and especially in China, a market that does not track Internet protocols.

Meanwhile, the general manager of BetWarrior Argentina -the official betting house of the national team-, Leandro Rivas, lamented a few days ago the 50% increase ordered by the national government in the online gaming tax rate. “This type of measure discourages potential operators because it reduces margins very strongly, making it practically unfeasible. Every tax that is introduced to legal gambling favors illegal gambling, which is what all of us in this industry want to combat, ”he said, alert to an invisible but omnipresent quagmire.

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