The Last Word: The hidden price of having a bet
How a grandmother's murder highlights the dangers of being lured into sports gambling
Sunday 01 July 2012
Linda Cajetan Andrade, aged 65, was found naked in her family's ancestral home in Southern Goa. She had been smothered. Indian police charged two teenaged grandsons with her murder. Her savings had been stolen – to fund a betting spree on cricket and Euro 2012 football.
The depravity of the crime highlighted the mundanity of its motive and the futility of its outcome. The boys, aged 14 and 15, apparently lost most of the proceeds when Russia were knocked out by Greece at the group stage.
The thread of human tragedy in illegal sports gambling, estimated by Interpol to be worth £308 billion in Asia alone, is endless. Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, warns that corruption, inspired by criminally-supervised betting, is a bigger threat to sport than doping.
Nothing exists in isolation. According to industry estimates, more than £300 million will be wagered legally tonight when Spain defend the European Championship against Italy in Kiev's Olympic Stadium. Betfair, the betting exchange, have already traded a record £1.1bn over the tournament. Two thirds of bets are placed before play; the rest are products of instinct, knowledge, opportunism and desperation, levied when matches are under way.
The cheerleaders for the Olympic Games, which start in 26 days, would be well advised to moderate their volume. We see Seoul 1988 through the yellow, steroidal eyes of Ben Johnson, winner of the most tainted race in history. The nightmare vision for London 2012 is of a penurious athlete running to order for a betting syndicate.
It could so easily happen: ease up imperceptibly in a qualifying heat and finish second, do the job but with a cynicism that is impossible to detect unless you are in on the deal.
The legitimate betting industry distances itself from such doomsday scenarios and promises to share intelligence about suspicious betting patterns. Bookmakers argue they are naturally conservative. Aware of their relative ignorance of Olympic disciplines, they are afraid of specialist knowledge.
It is hard to feel a shred of sympathy when everyone involved continues to propagate the lie that sport means more when there is money on it.
Betting's ambassadors are plausible, presentable, sharp-suited and silver-tongued. They have insinuated themselves into mainstream media, and attempt to manage the relentless narrative of modern sport.
Presented as instant experts, they are the human equivalent of luminous lures designed to mimic the actions of prey and entice unwary fish on to an angler's hook. They are interchangeable, but effective.
Ray Winstone's disembodied head, a mutation of mob boss and punter's pal, leers suggestively, and offers "a bit of in-play action". Bet 365, the company the actor promotes, were founded in a Portakabin in Stoke-on-Trent. They turned over £501m last year.
Niklas Bendtner's "lucky pants" were the latest stunt by Paddy Power, who trade on Irish stereotypes and a business strategy that uses whimsy as a weapon. His €100,000 [£80,000] fine was a bargain for a firm which turned over €4.6bn in 2011.
Betting has gone global online. The intimacies of the old high-street bookies' shop have been replaced by solitary confinement.
Should you wish to wager on tonight's European final, one click of a mouse will offer 12 "free" bets, ranging from £10 to £200. While the gullible swallow the myth of chance, professional gamblers use teams of PhD graduates to produce algorithms which reduce a game to the mathematics of price movements.
This is about more than the marketing of hope. It goes beyond the innocence of the housewife's choice at the Grand National. It is a pernicious problem. Cricket cannot be trusted. Tennis bears its scars.
Lest we forget, Cesare Prandelli, Italy's manager, offered to withdraw his squad before Euro 2012 because of the latest Serie A match-fixing scandal. Football finds comfort in complacency and ignorance.
No one is asking questions. The death of Linda Cajetan Andrade may seem a world away, but it is closer to home than you think.
AVB just the ticket for Spurs' business
Christian Gross infamously arrived at White Hart Lane brandishing a tube ticket from Heathrow. Should Andre Villas-Boas be unveiled as Tottenham manager this week, he will require a more convincing image of himself as a man of the people.
His audience will be sceptical, resolutely tribal and conditioned to regard him as a Chelsea reject. To many Tottenham fans, this gives him the social status of a second-hand Ford Escort complete with furry dice: mildly offensive, deeply unattractive and rather embarrassing .
Any protests will miss the point. Villas-Boas is a middle manager, employed by an institution who are 85 per cent owned by a Bahamas-based investment company. In the great scheme of things, he is of limited relevance.
He will be portrayed as The Gaffer, a description which hints at football's feudalism. The reality is that, helped by the influential figure of Tim Sherwood, he will follow a meticulously prepared, heavily monitored business strategy.
To prove the point the Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, has just signed Gareth Bale, sold Vedran Corluka and started horse-trading over Luka Modric.
A lone Ranger
Chris Hegarty is the first player to sign for Rangers without knowing the club's fate. I knew him as an apprentice at Millwall. He was rejected, but persisted, and now captains Northern Ireland's Under-21 team. A young man of promise and principle, he deserves to make himself a life.
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