As the 2018 World Cup approaches, Russian Federation authorities are planning for a sharp uptick in legal and illegal online sports betting. Russian officials believe at least $1 billion a year is sent to offshore accounts by illegal Russian bookmaker operations.
The World Cup takes place in Russia in June and July 2018. Every four years, global sports betting peaks, as gamblers from around the globe make massive numbers of bets on the most pivotal games in the world’s biggest football tournament.
Sports betting in Russia is no different. In fact, the 2018 Russian World Cup tournament is almost certain to be the pinnacle of sports betting in world history to this point. With live/in-play betting and smartphone sales at an all-time peak, 2018 looms as the biggest peak one has ever seen for sportsbooks.
“Colossal Interest in the World Cup”
Alena Sheyanova, speaking on behalf of Leon, the major Russian bookmaker, said interest is at an all-time peak. Sheyanova said, “We expect colossal interest in the World Cup. The legal online betting industry is developing at phenomenal rates.”
The Russian Federation has prepared to meet the demand by licensing 15 separate sportsbooks. Anton Rozhkovsky is in charge of the government-mandated TsUPIS online betting payment system, which is supposed to administer legalized online sports betting in Russia during the 2018 World Cup.
Illegal Bookies Handle Majority of Bets
Despite the mandate, Anton Rozhkovsky says that a majority of wagers will be handled by illegal domestic and offshore bookmaker operations. Rozhkovsky recently told Japan Times, “The total turnover volume of the legal and offshore online bookmaking market is more than $2 billion (€1.6 billion) a year. We do not pretend to know if the actual figure is $2.5 billion or $4 billion.”
The Russian regulator added, “Around 70 percent of that is illegal, offshore business.”
A Russian gambling analysis center, Bookmakers Rating, puts the figure at 3x to 6x what Rozhkovsky’s estimates. The Bookmakers Rating estimates that Russian online sportsbooks had a $11.8 billion turnover last year.
$11.8 Billion a Year Turnover
Whatever the amount of betting activity, Russia’s sports betting industry could be more profitable, but the government restricts licensing to only 15 international betting sites. Big name UK and Irish sportsbooks like Ladbrokes, William Hill, 888, Paddy Power, and Boyles do not accept Russian players. Most have been blacklisted.
A few Russian bookmakers like Stoloto, Leon, and Zenit have been approved. Fonbet, 1xBet, and Liga Stakov are said to have the most traffic. One Austrian bookmaker jumped through many hoops to gain licensing, while GVC Holdings’ Bwin is the best known western online bookmaker to be licensed.
15 Russian-Approved Online Sportsbooks
Anton Rozhkovsky said most of the offshore operators are licensed in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. He said, “Most of the rest are small offshore companies registered in the Netherlands Antilles, Costa Rica, or European jurisdictions such as Malta and Gibraltar.”
Russian government regulators want to eliminate as much illegal offshore gambling as possible. They say money in offshore accounts could be used by unscrupulous racketeers to fix matches. While Rozhkovsky said Russia’s leaders do not expect any match-fixing to take place, he said it is a good idea to take precautions.
Attempts to End Match-Fixing
Russian football in the 1990s and early 2000s was plagued by match-fixing and corruption, says Anzor Kavazashvili, the 77-year old former goalkeeper for the Soviet Union’s World Cup teams in 1966 and 1970. Kavazashvili spent years lobbying the Russian Federation’s government to crack down on potential match fixing.
Former UEFA executive Michel Platini, who lost his job in 2015 due to corruption allegations of another kind, worked with Anzor Kavazashvili until 2012 to stamp out match-fixing in Russian soccer.
Kavazashvili said, “Platini told us we were the only country in Europe without an agency in charge of match fixing. We knew games could be fixed by players, trainers, player agents and referees. So we took on a comprehensive approach.”
Anton Orekh’s Opinion
The initiative ended in 2012, due to Russian football controversies involving referees decisions. Anzor Kavazashvili’s council was disbanded in the wake of the purely domestic scandal. Despite the end of Kavazashvili’s role in bringing reform, Echo of Moscow radio sport commentator Anton Orekh says that reforms have happened over the course of this decade.
Mr. Orekh said part of the reform comes from team owners, who believe it served their interests to keep the sport free of scandal.
Orekh told Japan Times, “Clean clubs have appeared whose owners see no profit in fixed results.”