By MAUREEN KOH
SINGAPOREAN bookies - who operate betting websites - are hot.
Not only here but also in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines and Malaysia.
At least, that's what several punters and bookmakers contacted on various betting websites told The New Paper on Sunday.
And the reasons they're hot with bettors are the same ones you'd find in mainstream Singapore society.
Chief among them: They play fair.
Punters say that Singaporean bookies may chase you to pay up promptly when you lose, but when you win, they also pay you promptly.
Australian "Mr Grim", who is a member of one website, attests to that.
"I like that payment is prompt - that's like a Singapore stamp of guarantee," he told The New Paper on Sunday.
Another punter, Gigi, who is from Hong Kong, said she has switched to Singapore bookmakers.
She used to place bets with websites run by mainland Chinese syndicates and Hong Kong triads.
"You can be sure they'll be at your back for payment when you lose, but it's a different case when you win," she said.
Gigi claimed she once had two triad members turn up at her workplace when she defaulted in payment to threaten her.
Another reason why punters like Singapore bookies: Their websites - usually hosted in the Philippines - are "professionally-run", said members.
Paul, from Australia, said: "Good English in quick news updates indicate efficiency."
Wisely, a senior member on a betting forum, said: "Of course it's "safer" to bet with Singapore(an)-managed agents", as they will pay you.
He claims he is an agent based in Thailand but collects bets for a Singaporean "master agent".
He said: "Singaporeans are very organised, so everything is in order."
A random check with members across various forums hosted by at least 10 betting portals indicated that at least half of the websites are believed to be Singaporean-owned.
The New Paper on Sunday unsuccessfully tried to contact the hosts of eight websites through e-mails and feedback forms for verification.
A spokesman for a law firm in Makati, Manila, that specialises in assisting foreign companies apply for online gaming licences in the Philippines, said there are several key players (websites) which are run or owned by "legitimate businessmen".
According to the spokesman, foreign companies can legally set up business in the online gaming, sports and betting industries as long as they comply with a set of regulations.
Citing client confidentiality, she declined to provide any figures but confirmed that "a number of these businessmen are Singaporeans who have the money to buy the licenses".
A retired bookie said: "There are a few big plates (bookie speak for illegal betting operations) - and they are not restricted to just one website.
"They are controlled by only one or two main players but many of the shareholders are Singaporeans."
He described these "shareholders" as "individuals who have the money to buy franchises to operate the website".
A senior agent, who is based in China, likened it to "multi-level selling".
He said: "Master agents then recruit agents - bookies - from all over the region to take the bets."
All transactions - wins or losses - are usually wired or transferred electronically.
While it may be legal to host a site outside Singapore, placing bets with it is still illegal in Singapore.
All forms of soccer betting are illegal here, unless they are placed with Singapore Pools and its authorised agents.
To date, Singapore police have arrested 36 persons during this World Cup season for illegal football betting, with estimated illegal bets amounting to nearly $1.5 million.
Assistant director of the Specialised Crime Division, CID, Superintendent of Police Goh Lam Kiong, said: "This series of operations show that we are serious about clamping down on illegal betting activities.
"We will not hesitate to take action against those involved in such activities, regardless of their role."
In 2008, 1,566 people in Singapore were arrested for illegal gambling and betting activities, according to police figures.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong and Guangdong police busted a syndicate that collected some seven billion yuan (S$1.4 billion) in illegal bets - mostly on football matches.
Hong Kong police arrested 74 people in Hong Kong and 29 in mainland China during the joint operation, reported the South China Morning Post.
A police spokesman told The New Paper on Sunday: "Investigations are still ongoing but we don't believe any Singaporean is involved."
This article was first published in The New Paper.