The German bookmaking scene, in the spotlight since the eruption of the soccer match-fixing scandal, is worth billions. But the presence of private bookies along with state companies makes the market tough to monitor.
When news that a Berlin referee fixed soccer matches in order to win bets broke two weeks ago, it was not hard for local authorities to believe.
Intelligence authorities say the German capital, the home of tainted referee Robert Hoyzer (photo) who has triggered one of the worst scandals in German soccer history, is a paradise for illegal bookies. Alongside established, state-controlled
companies like Oddset, private companies, some of them with dubious operating licenses, have set up shop in Berlin and the rest of Germany. It's not hard to see why: bookmaking in Germany is a €1.2 billion business, and sports has around 80 percent share of that figure.
The private firms are almost impossible for intelligence authorities to track because they keep changing their operations. And the more lucrative options the companies offer bettors have helped them grow in influence, something that worries soccer officials.
"This whole bookmaking scene has changed a lot," said Theo Zwanziger, president of the German Football Association. "In particular, the private bookies, who are increasingly intervening in the actual course of the game."
Cracking down on private firms
Unlike Oddset, which allows combination betting on three games, private companies allow a number of different combinations. For example, bettors can wager on the first yellow card, the first objection or the first free kick of the soccer game. According to critics, it's exactly these special betting tactics that lead to manipulation and fixing of games.
Hoyzer, right, admitted to fixing a tournament game between HSV Hamburg and SC Paderborn
To counter the problem, the DFB together is now pushing for a better monitoring system that would be activated as soon as there was suspicion of foul play.
"That means when the bookmakers notice that a particular match is marked by an extraordinarily high number of bets on an outsider team then it does signalize that there's something amiss," said Zwanziger. "That could perhaps give the DFB and the committee of referees the possibility of swapping out referees at the last minute."
Officials are aided by the fact that private bookies, unlike companies like Oddset, require the identification or credit card numbers of their clients.
No general betting ban yet for players
There are also calls for a general betting ban on participating players, club owners and politicians. But many doubt such a rule's effectiveness.
Rudi Assauer, manager of Bundesliga team Schalke 04 say it will be easy to get around it. "I can bet the way I want via a frontman," Assauer said. "Only thing is, at the end when the lid's blown off then you'll be in deep trouble."
German politicians have now avowed to step up the fight against illegal bookmakes in order to minimize the risk of fraud. But, concrete proposals are still to come and the situation is made worse by the fact that the legal process to nab illegal bookies is highly complicated.