The Cheltenham Gold Cup steeplechase takes place at 3.20pm today, and it seemed an auspicious day on which to raise a long-standing question of mine: why are bookies not covered by the Money Laundering Regulations? I know that if you bring a new sector into the regulated group, you have to provide them with a supervisory body that can check their compliance with the regulations (hence the ongoing reluctance to bring hawala dealers into the fold), but surely the vulnerabilities of bookies – and their attractiveness to criminals – should override this?
I am not the only one to think this – as shown by this article from the Telegraph back in January 2005. To quote from that article (in case you’re wondering why criminals would risk their money by betting it): “By placing wagers totalling £12,700 on the outcome of a Premiership football match, and taking the best odds from Ladbrokes and William Hill to cover every outcome, the backer would be guaranteed a return of £11,700. Although entailing a loss of £1,000, this represents less than 8% of the original cash. Criminals are usually believed to be willing to accept a loss of 20-25% in converting ‘dirty’ to ‘clean’ money. By using more than one bookmaker, slightly better odds are achieved and suspicion is averted.” As if to prove the report right, only two months later Dublin’s Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) was warning bookies at Cheltenham to be on the lookout for punters trying to launder the proceeds of Belfast’s £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery. Felix McKenna, chief of the CAB, said: “What better place to launder dirty money than the races? Cheltenham is an ideal venue to put £500 or £1,000 of cash on a horse to clean it up. They will be there in their dozens.” Indeed.