Five months after the death of Brazilian soccer legend Pele, the sport has been rocked by a historic match-fixing scandal that threatens the lifeblood of the national pastime in South America’s largest country.
While leading U.S. sportsbooks have monitored foreign match-fixing schemes closely in the past, one that has embroiled several major Brazilian clubs resonates much deeper on North American soil. State prosecutors in the Public Ministry of Goias this month charged 16 individuals, including seven professional soccer players, in a comprehensive scheme involving at least eight 2022 matches.
While Colorado Rapids midfielder Max Alves is not among those charged, ESPN reported that he was placed on paid administrative leave in connection with the gambling investigation. Media reports have alleged Alves pocketed $12,000 to deliberately receive a yellow card in a Sept. 17, 2022, match against the LA Galaxy. Alves joined the Rapids from Flamengo, a famed Brazilian club and 1981 world champion.
Major League Soccer issued a statement acknowledging reports of unlawful sports gambling involving a current and former player in the league. Zeca, a former Houston Dynamo defender, is also reportedly under investigation in the case.
A statement from Major League Soccer. pic.twitter.com/7oZKKRqitV
— MLS Communications (@MLS_PR) May 11, 2023
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic PASPA ruling in 2018, MLS is the first major U.S. pro sports league to conduct a public investigation into match-fixing allegations. The incident could impact aspects of the U.S. sports betting ecosystem such as operators’ ability to accept microbets on wagers like yellow card accumulation. MLS representatives did not respond to a request from Sports Handle for comment.
A nation in shock
Brazil is the only nation in the history of the world’s most popular sports event to be crowned World Cup champ five times. It is one reason the phrase “O País do Futebol,” or “The Country of Football,” is often used to describe Brazil.
While Brazil legalized sports betting in 2018, a new measure passed this year requires sportsbooks to be headquartered in the country before accepting wagers from domestic customers. The sweeping match-fixing scandal could have further impact.
“Sports betting is such a new thing in Brazil, so we’re not used to it like in Europe,” said Mauro Abati, a marketing executive at Paybrokers, a Brazilian payments facilitation company that provides turnkey solutions for the sports betting industry. “This is the first time it’s happened and we don’t know how to deal with it. It’s such a shock for us.”
In a prior match-fixing scandal in 2005, FIFA suspended a referee for manipulating several matches. Brazil’s Supreme Court of Sporting Justice eventually annulled more than a dozen matches in question.
The bribes reported in that case pale in comparison to what has been reported in the new investigation, with one player allegedly receiving a $100,000 payment (R$500,000,00 Brazilian Reals) for getting a red card.
Another player, Eduardo Bauermann, a defender for the Santos club, is under investigation for conversations he allegedly had with a gambler about receiving penalties in exchange for cash payments. Bauermann allegedly received R$50,000 ($10,054) in advance to earn a yellow card in a match against Avaí, but didn’t fulfill his end of the bargain. On another occasion, Bauermann reportedly agreed to receive a red card but was not booked until after the match.
The conversations were provided to the Public Ministry of Goias, which launched two phases of the investigation known as “Operation Maximum Penalty.” Since then, Brazil’s federal authorities have launched a probe into the match-fixing allegations, the nation’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security announced this month. When the lower house of the Brazilian Congress opened a separate inquiry last week, it marked the third investigation this year into betting improprieties throughout the sport.
According to Brazilian online publication Metrópoles, Bauermann makes about R$200,000 a month ($40,219). Santos suspended Bauermann earlier this month amid the investigation.
The scandal may accelerate efforts to regulate sports betting in Brazil. In March, a group of stakeholders led by Genius Sports and Entain formed the Brazilian Integrity Association, a nonprofit organization that will address issues in sports such as match-fixing. It comes as Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva moves closer to enacting a tax structure for sports betting.
There are indications that Lula’s administration is seeking a rate of 15% on sportsbook operator gross gaming revenue, Hugo Baungartner, a board member of Brazil’s RCT Gaming, said on the iGB World Series of Politics podcast this month.
Will Alves face prosecution in the U.S.?
Last week, Goias state District Attorney Fernando Cesconetto told the Associated Press that the investigation may be international in scope, with a possibility that Alves could face prosecution in the U.S. Cesconetto plans to share findings from the Brazilian investigation with foreign authorities, adding that the strategy is the “natural path” for moving forward with the case.
Alves joined the Rapids in 2022 on a four-year deal. Screenshots obtained by O Globo, a Brazilian news outlet, appear to detail negotiations between Alves and members of the match-fixing gang. The outlet also published a payment log from the gang documenting planned disbursements to six players, including Alves. The spreadsheet is part of the evidence gathered by Brazilian authorities over the course of the investigation.
Overall, the Brazilian judiciary obtained more than 100 pages of conversations and audio transcripts with discussions related to the schemes, according to media reports.
In the U.S., leading sportsbooks still take action on Brazilian Serie A matches. FanDuel is accepting wagers on more than 10 matches this weekend, while bet365 is taking bets on Serie A and Serie B action.
The Alves case reinforces the importance of preserving the integrity of the game and the authenticity of sports betting, said sports attorney Baird Fogel, a partner at Eversheds Sutherland. Although there is still much to uncover, the U.S. sports betting industry cannot afford the issues to go unchecked, Fogel explained.
“The vigilance is already there — but this will cause all leagues, franchises and sports betting operators to ensure that the proper integrity protections, programs, and oversight are securely in place,” he told Sports Handle.