UN Report Indicates Billions Wagered and Laundered Through Illegal Sports Betting

Posted on: December 13, 2021, 08:09h. 

Last updated on: December 13, 2021, 10:22h.

A report recently published by the United Nations estimates that criminals launder up to $140 billion annually through sports betting.

United Nations
The United Nations General Assembly Hall at the UN’s headquarters in New York. A report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime indicates that up to $140 billion is laundered through illegal sports betting practices. (Image: UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

The report acknowledges illicit activities in athletic events date back to ancient times. However, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) notes such behavior has risen substantially in the past 20 years.

“Indeed, globalization, a huge influx of money, the rapid growth of legal and illegal sports betting, and technological advances transforming the way sport is played and consumed are making it increasingly attractive to criminal networks seeking to exploit sport for illicit profit,” the UN agency said in a statement.

Illegal activities in sports will be a central topic of discussion at the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The five-day event started Monday in Egypt.

Illegal Sports Betting Vastly Larger Than Legal Market

The illegal sports betting market is a big one globally. But the report could not pinpoint its exact scope. The UNODC estimated the illegal market at between $340 billion and $1.7 trillion worldwide.

The legal market, according to the report, is about $40 billion worldwide.

Officials said that the rise in illegal betting goes hand-in-hand with increased money laundering activities. Laundering through wagering can take many forms. The most prevalent may be the direct depositing of funds into a gaming account, with subsequent withdrawals occurring as winnings. However, illegal actors may also use the funds to establish their own betting sites as well.

Illegal betting markets are attractive for organized crime groups for the purpose of betting-related competition manipulation and money-laundering because of the greater anonymity, greater liquidity, and better return on investment that they offer,” the report states.

Further, the return through illegal sports betting is high due to the combination of low risk and low overhead costs.

The United Nations report also raised concerns about the rise of cryptocurrency. Officials fear it will also aid in money laundering activities, since online exchanges allow for anonymous, peer-to-peer trading.

Improving Pay for Female Athletes Recommended

The UNODC brought together nearly 200 subject-matter experts in developing the report. They also helped shape the recommendations it makes for curbing illegal activities.

Among the policies the report encourages sports leagues and associations to undertake is the creation of independent agencies “that have a clear responsibility for the prevention, detection, investigation, and sanctioning of proven acts of corruption.”

Another recommendation was to narrow the pay gap between genders in professional sports. While there was a “lack of data” on how much financial vulnerability plays in female athletes participating in corruption, the report noted generally that such vulnerabilities play a role in corruption.

And the increase in women’s sports has come at the same time as sports betting has expanded globally.

“For example, senior figures in cricket have highlighted the vulnerability to corruption of women’s cricket, pointing to an exponential increase in betting on women’s competitions in recent years,” the reports said. “Similar observations have been made about women’s football (soccer).”