Every week, after collecting their debts, runners destroy their papers, books and all other evidence, get a new temporary mobile phone number and start afresh.
“I don’t know who my boss is. I only know his voice, that’s it. The numbers change every day,” the source said.
Each bookmaker employs five or six runners and reports to a “ringleader,” who controls several bookies and their winnings, and has connections to big-time organized crime across Southeast Asia and China.
“This guy is rich. He gets money from every place — and we’re not the only umbrella, he’s got a lot of umbrellas. This ringleader is involved in a bigger organization,” the runner said.
In one well-known cafe in the city’s west, up to six groups of runners can be working at any one time, taking S$12,000 to S$13,000 (US$9,400 to US$10,200) per head, for a personal cut of S$2,000 to S$3,000 a day.
However, this face-to-face operation is nothing compared to the business done by phone and the Internet, favored by a younger, more technologically adept clientele, which is thriving in clandestine call-centers across Asia.
In Singapore these betting sweatshops, featuring computers and people taking calls, are small and temporary, employing only about four people at a time — to make it “easy to run.”
Elsewhere, the operations are more brazen.
Across the border in Malaysia, police in April raided a group of five luxury bungalows guarded by closed-circuit security cameras and arrested more than 100 people. Just days into Euro 2012, three smaller operations were busted.
“In Malaysia it’s no holds barred. Even the government officers can be bribed there, not in Singapore,” the Singaporean runner said.
Scott Ferguson, author of the “Sport is made for betting” blog and former head of education at Betfair, said stories abound of betting kingpins in Indonesia who occupy entire fortified islands, complete with girls to entertain guests and accessible only by private boat.
With their mobility and flexibility the betting networks are hard to contain and, without extensive cross-border cooperation and witness protection schemes, they’re almost impossible to stamp out, Ferguson said.
“It’s like drugs. They might have taken a couple of kingpins, but I don’t think it’s going to be a huge deterrent,” he said, referring to the demise of Perumal and his associates.
Singapore has stiff penalties for illegal bookmaking and has introduced its own state-run soccer betting.
“But the odds are terrible,” said the runner, who laughs when asked if authorities are getting a grip on the problem.
He can bear the thought of the cane and prison, and the weekly risk of being punched by a reluctant debtor. Of greater concern is getting on the wrong side of the betting underworld.
“If they find out I’m a snitch, I’m putting my family at risk. You won’t see killings or anything, but it’s more like threats,” he said. “If you’re living in a house and every day you’re being threatened by phone, they’re calling you and saying your son, your whole family’s going to die, it’s psychologically scary.”
And although he is happy to talk, even boastful about his activities, any discussion of Perumal’s alleged Singapore boss is strictly off-limits.
“We can’t talk much about that because we know one way or another, there’s definitely a link,” he said.