Austria match-fixing case prompts further calls for betting restrictions

6th December 2013 10:07 am GMT

A match-fixing scandal which may see up to thirty players in Austria’s top two football divisions convicted of betting-related corruption offences has prompted the country’s Worker’s Union (AK) to urge the government to enact strict restrictions on sportsbook operators that would see live, in-play and virtual betting banned.

Giving its support to calls for betting restrictions by Austrian Football Federation (ÖFB) chairman Dr Leo Windtner and Bundesliga president Hans Rinner, the AK claimed in a statement that the current “legal recourse against betting fraud is totally inadequate.”

The AK noted that Austria's Sports Minister Gerald Klug had introduced a new package of measures to prevent match-fixing, including a ban on bets being placed on in-match events such as corner kicks or penalties, with AK director Gerhard Schmidt calling the new legislation “an important first step.”

Schmidt continued by saying that “to really be able to effectively and sustainably combat corruption, further and more restrictive measures are needed, both at national and international level.”

Alongside the key initiative of having new laws drafted specifically to discourage match-fixing, the AK called for the country’s current legislative framework for betting to be scrapped. Austria currently classes sports betting as a game of skill, meaning it falls outside current federal laws covering lotteries, while the country’s nine states have different standards for sportsbook operators.

The AK called for a single coherent national standard to be set, under which “clear limitations of betting services” are identified, including a ban on any form of live betting or virtual sports. It should also include stricter controls to protect young people, who the union said were at risk as sports betting was an “entry point” to gambling.

However the union’s calls were disputed by Austrian iGaming operator Interwetten, which warned that legislators can only regulate Austrian betting operators.

“A ban on event betting would subsequently not contribute at all to preventing future betting scandals,” the Malta-licensed operator said in a statement, noting that a blanket ban would just see people bet on unlicensed sites.

“The proposed ban on event betting is a populist placebo that does not have anything to do with reality,” Interwetten's chief financial officer Birgit Bosch added. “In the past years, every single betting scandal concerned bets on matches which were illegally placed with Asian betting operators.”

Bosch continued by saying that there was “good reason” for this trend, with European operators setting minimum amounts for event bets, making them “not interesting at all for betting syndicates considering the potential earnings of only several hundreds of euros.“

The company argued that the key issue was the fight against match-fixing, rather than the dangers of betting, noting its involvement in uncovering the betting scandal involving referee Robert Hoyzer that hit German football in 2005.

Interwetten CEO Werner Becher called upon the Austrian government to “fight the causes of sports manipulation and betting fraud, instead of continuing to stick their heads in the sand.”

He accused the government of panicking and submitting “any suggestions from sponsors as demands to the legislator without any reflection,” going as far as to accuse lobbyists of having too great an influence on the legislative process.

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