Friday, Reuters reported Chinese officials will crack down on football gambling after breaking up “the biggest ever online gambling ring” in Hong Kong. According to the British news source, China’s Ministry of Public Security said its anti-gambling police will scrutinize all online betting on the World Cup moving forward.
A joint taskforce of Hong Kong and Shenzhen police conducted the series of raids that led to the crackdown. The operation, code-named “Zonebuilder,” involved Shenzhen authorities because the betting ring reportedly used Chinese bank accounts.
In one Zonebuilder raid, Chinese police arrested a middle-aged couple in connection with a gambling ring operated out of a Hong Kong grocery store; in another, police arrested several truckers in a car park for betting on Tuesday’s New Zealand-Slovakia match.
According to People’s Republic news agency Xinhua, Chinese police have seized more than $12 million in illegal betting slips so far. This total includes the nearly $2 million in betting slips seized during the car-park and grocery-store raids.
In the largest raid, police seized more than $8 million in illegal betting slips and arrested 25 people. All told, police have arrested or detained some 70 people in connection with the ring. Police also reported seizing 18 computers and shutting down 13 illicit Web sites.
"We will put the highest priority on smashing football gambling on the Internet during the World Cup," ministry spokesman Gu Jian said. "We will continue to exert great pressure and take severe measures against gambling."
Official reports estimate that Chinese citizens make some $150 billion in illegal bets annually. Chinese authorities attribute most of the illegal gambling in Hong Kong to triad groups based in mainland China. During the 2006 World Cup a raid in Beijing netted nine computers, one of which had attracted $14.6 million in illegal bets in one month.
Hong Kong law prohibits all gambling except horseracing, lottery and football bets made through the Jockey Club. Hong Kong lawmakers authorized the Jockey Club to be the region’s sole football-betting operator in 2003. Additionally, many Hong Kong citizens also gamble legally in the special administrative region of Macau
In 2009 the Jockey Club reported collecting $4.5 million in legal football-betting revenue. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Jockey Club declined to comment on the raids, which began June 12.