Paraguay’s chief gambling regulator, La Comision Nacional de Juegos de Azar (CONAJZAR), declared that it faces a “titanic struggle” to police illegal gambling in the small South American country. CONAJZAR’s declaration was part of a call for more government funding.
Javier Balbuena of CONAJZAR said that his agency regularly closes illegal gaming operators that reopen their doors for business “the next day somewhere else”. Balbuena said that his agency lacks the resources to shut down gaming operators, because of the lucrative nature of the business.
In his governmental report, which was published by G3Newswire, Mr. Balbuena said, “Our physical capacity does not allow us to cover every place in the country.”
Discussing the scope of his office’s work, Balbuena added, “We have closed more than 20 illegal gaming rooms. It is a titanic struggle.”
Funding for CONAJZAR
The regulatory official hopes his report will persuade Paraguayan lawmakers to pass legislation that would make La Comision Nacional de Juegos de Azar an autonomous body within the Finance Ministry. If it became autonomous, CONAJZAR would receive its own annual budget, instead of receiving an arbitrary amount from whatever Finance Minister happened to be in office at the time.
Balbuena noted that his agency is critically understaffed. For a nation of 6.725 million people and 157 million square miles of territory, Paraguay’s gaming regulator only has 15 full-time employees.
Sports Betting Is Rampant
Paraguay’s top gaming official said that the situation, which he says is widespread across South America, means that sports betting is uncontrolled. That means match fixing is rampant on futbol (soccer). Most of the major match-fixing scandals in the international soccer community have come in Europe and Asia over the past few years, with one or two notable cases in Africa.
That might not necessarily mean that most match-fixing takes place in those regions. When Australian officials catch Rugby Union players cheating, or Indian police catch top cricketers fixing matches, that is not only a sign of corruption, but also hard police work. It is a sign that authorities are able to catch the worst offenders, at least sometimes.
The dearth of prosecutions in South America might not be a sign that match-fixing does not happen; it might be a sign that it’s hopeless to catch the perpetrators. In Javier Balbuena’s opinion, futbol matches involving South American clubs are fixed regularly.
Tobias Vargas Match Fixing Case
He cited the case of Tobias Vargas, a prominent Paraguayan goalkeeper who stands accused of fixing matches in La Primera Division de Paraguay. Vargas is alleged to have bet against his own squad, Club Sportivo Luqueno, in a key match-up versus top-flight Paraguayan team, Club Cerro Porteno. If the allegations are true, then Tobias Vargas won $8,800 by fixing the match.
In a country where the per capita income is $4,133 per year, winning $8,800 for a night’s work would be the equivalent of collecting roughly $136,000, or about 2.2 times the average per capita income of the US.
Players Make 3x Monthly Salary Fixing Matches
The gaming official noted that professional futbol players in Paraguay make decent salaries ($2500 to $3000 a month), but nothing remotely comparable to the salaries professional players in Europe. The tempation to influence the outcome of sporting events is great, if the chances of being caught are small.
Javier Balbuena said, “There are players who earn a low salary and with a bet they could triple what they earn in a month.”
Given that fact, Javier Balbuena suggests the only answer is more funding for the policing of illegal gambling. While many might argue that legalization of sports betting is a better option, that might not be the answer in Paraguay. The temptation for players to fix match would remain, due to the economics of the game.
Economics of Illegal Bookmaking
The same could be said for illegal gambling operators. Futbol is popular in Paraguay. Sports betting on futbol is popular. Games are plentiful, so illegal bookmakers have a lucrative source of income.With only 15 people policing the entire nation, the chances of being caught are small. The risk/reward factor is out of control in favor of the illegal gambling operators.
Of course, it is axiomatic that government officials plead poverty when it is time to fund their agencies. The Pentagon receives over half-a-trillion dollars a year in funding, yet often complains to the US Congress their pet programs do not receive the proper funds.The case of Tobias Vargas might give a Paraguayan gaming regulator’s words added weight, because it is in the public consciousness.
In the case of Javier Balbuena and CONAJZAR, though, the official’s complaints have the ring of truth.