gov't-illegal sports gambling

SEOUL, March 15 (Yonhap) -- The government said Friday it will soon launch a special crackdown on illegal online gambling on sports, in response to a recent match-fixing scandal that rocked men's professional basketball.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said it recently held a joint conference with relevant government agencies, such as the National Police Agency, the National Gambling Control Commission (NGCC) and the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), to discuss measures to strengthen their coordinated efforts to root out illegal sports betting.

The ministry said the national police will launch a special crackdown on illegal gambling, sports or otherwise, in April. During the nationwide crackdown last year, police rounded up 2,071 law breakers, according to the ministry.

Earlier this week, Kang Dong-hee, former head coach of the Dongbu Promy in the Korean Basketball League (KBL), was arrested on match-fixing charges. Prosecutors believe he took cash from two gambling brokers in exchange for throwing games during the 2010-11 season. Kang resigned on Tuesday, a day after he was taken into custody.

Before the KBL, the country's professional football, baseball and volleyball leagues had already dealt with match-fixing scandals, with dozens of players getting lifetime bans from their sports.

Officials say they believe illegal sports betting Web sites have been the root of match-fixing problems in all sports. In earlier rigging schemes in football, volleyball and baseball, players, active or retired, were found to have taken cash from gambling brokers making their bets on such illegal sites.

These sites offer proposition bets, or "prop bets." They place odds on seemingly minor plays, such as the number of free throws made in the opening quarter of a basketball game, often with no cap on the amount of wager. It's considered easier for gamblers to fix such minute plays.

The only legal form of sports betting in South Korea is through buying Sports Toto lottery tickets. Sports Toto offers odds on wins, ties, losses and the combined scores between teams. A bettor can only wager 100,000 won per ticket.

The ministry said the KCC will try to more than double the number of its online monitoring personnel and also shorten the number of days required to shut down illegal Web sites. Currently, it takes up to 10 days of review to close down an unlawful betting site.

The ministry added it and other relevant agencies will form a joint council by the end of March to establish a nationwide response system against illegal gambling.

The ministry also said it will look into offering reduced penalties to operators of illegal betting sites who report themselves to authorities.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>