Two boxers you may have heard of are fighting each other this weekend. Pound-for-pound king Floyd “Money” Mayweather will face his No. 1 opponent, the pride of the Philippines Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. For the first time ever, the two will square off at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Saturday night in what many have dubbed the “fight of the century.”
Hyperbole aside, this match is expected to shatter all pay-per-view records and earn each fighter more in an hour than most athletes take home in a year.
And then there’s the eye-popping figure expected to be wagered on the event. Vegas estimates anywhere from $80 to $100 million will cross its betting floors.
But most Americans don’t live in Vegas. Still, that won’t stop many from placing bets on Saturday. What they don’t realize, however, is that when sports bettors play the odds online, they risk crossing paths with international organized crime.
“If the sports book is owned and operated by organized crime, you’re funding organized crime,” said Nicholas Cheviron, a supervisory special agent with the FBI. “Those profits are coming back to organized crime for them to use for their own means but also to fund other illicit activities.”
The illegal sports betting market in the U.S. has been estimated to be nearly as high as $800 billion. Experts say many of these sites are based in Asia, where gangs like the Chinese Triads rule the organized crime underworld.
The fact is, when you access an online betting site, you can’t be certain it isn’t tied to an organization like this, said Chris Eaton, the former head of security for FIFA. “These websites look so authentic, so professional … It doesn’t mean they’re not illegally owned or illegally operated.”
So how does this work? How exactly does global organized crime profit off these gambling websites? And how do you know if you’re placing a wager with the Triads?
For this week’s episode of Shortwave, we talked to Cheviron and Eaton and to John McMullen, who is a professor at St. Mary’s in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He’s spent 20 years studying gambling, and more recently, gambling and cyber crime.