Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced the arrest of 23 people, including a coach and 11 footballers, in connection with a match-fixing investigation.
The ICAC had received reports of suspected corruption involving individual players and spent nearly a year investigating before launching the operation.
The suspects, 22 men and one woman between the ages of 25 and 36, allegedly offered bribes to players to influence match outcomes, including losing or tying games, as part of a scheme to profit from illegal gambling. The group members contacted the coach and players before matches to provide instructions and offer bribes. Some players received thousands of dollars to lose games against weaker teams, while others placed bets on the outcomes of these matches to win large sums.
The investigation also revealed that a football team recently relegated from the Hong Kong Premier League was linked to the case. While the team’s name was not released, it was confirmed that they had been involved in 18 matches with suspicious outcomes during the First Division League. Players from first division side Happy Valley, and second division clubs Tung Sing and Fu Moon were interviewed by the ICAC on Monday.
Pui Kwan-kay, the Hong Kong Football Association chairman, emphasised the governing body’s zero-tolerance policy towards match-fixing and pledged to help authorities stamp out the problem in domestic football. Happy Valley finished 10th in the 14-team league this season, conceding 84 goals in the process. Kwai Tsui, who finished bottom, let in 106. Tung Sing and Fu Moon are presently 11th and 14th respectively in the ongoing 16-team second division.
The ICAC stressed that corruption of any kind, especially in sports, undermines the integrity of the game and is a serious criminal offense. The investigation is ongoing, and the suspects will face charges of bribery, illegal gambling, and other related offenses. The case is a reminder of the need for vigilance against match-fixing and the importance of maintaining the integrity of sports.
The ICAC said that it has arrested the 23 individuals, including 22 men and one woman, aged between 25 to 36 years old, following a year-long investigation into allegations of corrupt practices by individual players in a local soccer team. The team, which participated in the 2022-2023 Hong Kong Premier League, played 26 matches, of which 18 were either lost or ended in a draw, with some games suspected of being fixed.
The group members allegedly made contact with the team’s coaches and players before the matches and gave instructions to manipulate the game. Some players received thousands of dollars in bribes to manipulate games, with the highest reward reaching HK$9,000, and then played poorly to lose to weaker teams. They also participated in illegal gambling to win substantial amounts of money.
The ICAC found that some group members made exaggerated body language gestures outside the stadium to instruct players on how to manipulate the game, and then placed bets on underdogs with high odds to win huge payouts. The management of the soccer team is considered a victim in this case.
Hong Kong anti-corruption agency arrests 23 people including 11 footballers, coach as part of match-fixing probe
Timor-Leste, one of the strongest democracies in southeast Asia, is taking further strides to become a new jurisdiction in the online betting and gaming sector as complement to regimes in Malta and the Isle of Man.
Innovative technologies for economic development
In terms of iGaming, Timor Leste will not be competing with Malta, but rather it will be complementary, offering Malta-based operators an opportunity to tap into a market that is very difficult to target from Malta.
The Virtual Gaming Association (VGA) of Timor-Leste hosted a special industry event on Friday, that revealed further details about the proposed regulatory framework. The VGA will be recommending to the Timor-Leste government that it issues both B2C and B2B licences, regulation be modelled on Malta and the Isle of Man rules and licences be issued in the second or third quarter of this year.
It was also confirmed that the VGA will be conducting a consultation process with the industry to further refine its regulatory approach.
Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, who was on an official visit to London, spoke at the event about the economic opportunities currently available in Timor-Leste. The country is set to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2025 and is currently making efforts to diversify its economy including in the digital and IT sectors with growing interest from investors from around the world.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) today said it booked Php79.37 billion (US$1.4 billion) in revenues in 2023, up 34.63% from last year’s Php58.96 billion, driven mainly by robust earnings from licensed casinos and the rising Electronic Games sector.
Gaming operations remain the main source of PAGCOR revenues with Php73.11 billion while other sources such as services, business income, gains and non-operating income contributed Php6.26 billion. Net income for 2023 was at Php6.81 billion, a 53.27% increase from the agency’s Php4.44 billion profit in 2022.
PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Alejandro H. Tengco said the higher earnings enabled the state gaming firm to increase its contribution to nation-building (CNB) to Php49.56 billion which is 43% higher than the Php34.67 billion CNB in the previous year, adding: “Our robust revenue generation in 2023 allowed us to remit more funds to the government to finance various services, including funding for the Universal Health Care program, also known as Philhealth.”
Chairman Tengco also said that the lion’s share of PAGCOR’s CNB amounting to Php34.72 billion has been remitted to the National Treasury. Half of the amount or Php17.36 billion – some US$310 million – will go to Philhealth to provide free health care coverage to millions of poor Filipinos.
PAGCOR also remitted Php3.65 billion to the Bureau of Internal Revenue as 5% franchise tax and another Php285.20 million for the agency’s corporate income tax.
Other recipients of PAGCOR’s 2023 earnings include the Philippine Sports Commission (Php1.73 billion) while a separate Php92.58 million was given to athletes and coaches who won in international competitions as mandated by the Sports Incentives and Benefits Act.
PAGCOR will also remit Php3.06 billion in cash dividends to the National Treasury, while local government units hosting Casino Filipino branches collectively will get Php451.72 million.
The Board of Claims under the Department of Justice will also receive Php63.12 million to compensate persons who have been wrongly imprisoned. “With the Philippine gaming industry’s full recovery from the impact of the pandemic, we are optimistic that PAGCOR will sustain this growth momentum in the coming years,” Chairman Tengco said.
The biggest revenue drivers for PAGCOR in 2023 are the licensed casinos in the country’s integrated resorts which contributed Php33.18 billion or 45.38% of the income from gaming operations. This was followed by the surging E-Games sector which includes e-bingos, e-games, specialty games and sports betting with Php21.66 billion or 29.62% of gaming income, while PAGCOR-run casinos chipped in Php15.12 billion or 20.68%.
Offshore gaming operations brought in Php3.15 billion or 4.31% of PAGCOR’s total gaming revenues. Earlier, Chairman Tengco had announced that the Philippine gaming industry’s gross gaming revenues in 2023 reached a record Php285.27 billion which already surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
The partnership focuses on introducing appealing lifestyle and entertainment programming for the Bay, including the launch of over 50 exclusive experiences across hotels, attractions, retail shops and dining establishments, in partnership with more than 19 precinct stakeholders.
This builds on the marketing efforts of all three parties – including STB’s Made in Singapore global brand campaign, Marina Bay Sands’ Bay Precinct Strategy, and UOB’s strategy to provide exclusive access to the best Travel, Shop, Dine and Entertainment events across ASEAN – to form a compelling tourism narrative for visitors.
Alongside engaging programming, this partnership will include a marketing campaign Masterpieces.
Made in Singapore, leveragingSTB’s global campaign that highlights how the ordinary is made extraordinary through a rich tapestry of unique and unexpected experiences made possible only in Singapore.
Campaign communications will go out to key source markets such as Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, and post-arrival visitors already in Singapore.
Kenneth Lim, Assistant Chief Executive, Marketing Group, Singapore Tourism Board, said, “We are delighted to partner with Marina Bay Sands and UOB to collaborate with the wider Marina Bay precinct partners to enhance the vibrancy of the Marina Bay precinct by offering a series of unique experiences for visitors to enjoy. This partnership aims to excite and inspire our visitors to explore more of what Singapore has to offer.”
Irene Lin, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer (Resort Marketing), Marina Bay Sands, said, “The Marina Bay precinct has the potential to be a canvas for cutting-edge lifestyle programming, with its diversity of hotel, attractions, retail and dining partners located in close proximity to our integrated resort. The partnership with STB and UOB allows us to further develop our first-in-class Bay Precinct Strategy, which offers business travellers a richer and varied bleisure experience.”
The partnership takes flight in February with a spectacular waterfront drone light show at the Bay, in celebration of Lunar New Year. Titled “The Legend of the Dragon Gate”, the show will present the story of the mythical Dragon King, brought to life through 1,500 drones set against the iconic Singapore skyline.
Themes of family reunion and perseverance, as well as symbols of luck and prosperity, will feature prominently in the show. Visitors can usher in the Year of the Dragon with a 10-minute drone performance, which runs at 8pm on 6, 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18 February.
After the complimentary show, they can also stay on for “Spectra – A Light & Water Show”, which runs at 8.30pm and 9.30pm on these dates.
Beyond the festive season, the three partners will also continue to embark on joint marketing initiatives to promote the Marina Bay precinct as a world-class lifestyle destination and entertainment hub.
The fundamentals of Macau gaming stocks remain intact, supported by a steady daily gross gaming revenue (GGR) run-rate and solid hotel bookings ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, brokerage HSBC said in a recent report.
Analysts Charlene Liu, Jessie Lu and Lauren Cai noted that GGR for the first 21 days of January had reached MOP13 billion (US$1.6 billion), implying an average daily run-rate (ADR) of MOP629 million over the past week, an increase of 5 per cent compared to the week prior.
If the remaining days of January maintain a daily GGR run-rate ranging from MOP550-600 million, the full-month GGR is expected to reach MOP18.5 billion to 19 billion, representing a recovery to 74-76 per cent of the 2019 level.
“Near term correction maybe overdone. While the weak consumer spending outlook remains an overhang, steady ADR performance and solid bookings ahead of the CNY suggest fundamentals are intact,” HSBC analysts said.
Of the casino operators, HSBC research team prefers Sands China due to its large hotel inventory and its emphasis on the mass market segment. The analysts also favour MGM China due to its defensive market share and attractive valuation.
The broker cited that year-to-date visitor arrivals track at 70,000-80,000 per day, and the Macau government expects the number to rise to 120,000 during the forthcoming CNY holiday. “The expectation is not high in our view given it only translates into 70 per cent recovery vs. 2019 CNY level, whereas Oct and Nov 2023 already saw over 85 per cent recovery.”
UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, told Reuters the explosion of casinos and crypto has “supercharged” organized criminal networks in Southeast Asia. Douglas stated it came as no surprise sophisticated threat actors “would look to leverage the same underground banking systems and service providers.”
Funds stolen by Lazarus, which the FBI states is under North Korea’s state intelligence bureau control, is a major source of funding for Pyongyang and its nuclear weapons programmes.
“a hub for organized crime and scamming operations”
Found in the Myawaddy village of Shwe Kokko, KK Garden is a casino and entertainment complex with Chinese investment, according to local officials. Those who have been lucky enough to escape the compound have a much different view, however, claiming that it is a hub for organized crime and scamming operations.
The criminals in charge often lure people from other Southeast Asia countries by offering easy work and extravagant perks, with a particular focus on Malaysian victims. Once they arrive, they are held prisoner and forced to work in online scam centers.
Stories from victims and their families can offer us a glimpse inside the “Garden of Hell.”
Casinos the conduit
The UNODC report stated Southeast Asia’s casinos, junkets, and unregulated crypto exchanges have become “foundational pieces” of the illegal banking structures used by regional organized crime networks.
Casinos, junkets & #crypto: major drivers of #moneylaundering, underground banking & #cyberfraud in East and Southeast Asia. New policy brief https://t.co/RESssnqPTG #organizedcrime #Mekong #ASEAN pic.twitter.com/Oeunz54fUZ— UNODC SEAsia-Pacific (@UNODC_SEAP) January 15, 2024
The reports revealed that casinos have proven “capable and efficient in moving and laundering massive volumes” of cash and crypto. This creates “channels for effectively integrating billions in criminal proceeds into the formal financial system.”
US News & World Report cited the UNODC as stating it had uncovered Lazarus’s activity through analyzing blockchain data and case information. However, an unnamed person at North Korea’s mission to the UN in Geneva said he was “not familiar with the issue” and that previous reports on Lazarus were “all speculation and misinformation.”