At the Greek American Atlas Club in Astoria, Queens on Tuesday, men sat around a card table playing poker and, in spirited Greek, reacted to the news of a match-fixing scandal that may have affected the outcomes of 680 soccer games over the past five years.
George Iliou, 54, said they’ve often suspected that games are rigged.
"I kind of had a feeling there was something going on,” he said. “How can teams that have the best players in the world lose to teams that are not really supposed to be playing in the same league?"
His suspicions were validated by a recent investigation by Europol, which revealed that a Singapore-based betting cartel used over $2.5 million in bribes to influence game outcomes. Officials said the operations were part of an organized-crime ring that encompassed more than 400 people from 15 different countries, and included both players and league officials.
Nearby in Astoria, at the Olympiakos fan club, Dimitrios Mourngas was also not surprised by the scandal.
"The players can fix the game, the coaches can fix a game, other outsiders can fix a game, referees can fix a game," he said. "If they get who fixed the game, they have to send all of them to jail."
Despite the scandal, members of the Greek American Atlas Club aren’t about to stop watching soccer.
Christos Tsoukias, 65, says the love of the sport is engrained from childhood.
"Everybody, since they were little kids and learned to kick the ball, it’s their number one sport,” he said.