Chinese authorities have detained at least 46 people in connection with illegal FIFA World Cup betting.
Widespread crackdowns on underground wagering on the ongoing FIFA World Cup have now resulted in one of the largest waves of arrests yet, a rounding up of 46 individuals by police in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. The detainment arrest wave centered on a betting operation involving as much as 320 million yuan ($48m; £36m), much of it channeled through illegal offshore sports-betting sites.
The crackdown involved a reported 200 Beijing police officers in the latest episode of the country’s “Operation Chain Break”, launched in 2015 to target mainland China’s massive underground-gambling scene. Other facets of the years-long crackdown have targeted the region’s noted “junket” niche, and even included the ban on online “Texas Hold’em” smartphone apps announced just a few weeks ago.
The latest episode is rather more typical and is the third wave of recent raids and arrests targeting illicit sports betting activities, which are both expressly illegal under Chinese law and widely popular despite the official ban. A little over a week ago, police in China’s southern city of Shenzhen arrested nine people, and another 11 were detained a couple of days later in the eastern province of Zhejiang, which includes the city of Hangzhou.
This Beijing-centered raid is the largest yet of those connected to the World Cup. According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, and picked up by Chinese news outlets, 14 of the 46 suspects have been placed in “criminal detention” (arrested and charged) and 21 others are in “administrative custody”, meaning arrested but not yet formally charged. The remaining 11 of the 46 people detained are still in detention (whether they’ve been officially “arrested” yet is unclear), while the investigation into the underground betting ring continues.
The state-released update on the arrests declared that six of the 46 people involved were alleged to be “masterminds”, meaning as bookies or runners (wager gatherers) “operating as middlemen for foreign gambling websites to recruit agents and customers”. The reports did not identify any of the illicit offshore sites, though hundreds if not thousands of such sites regularly target mainland China with such gambling opportunities.
Social-media monitoring key
China’s overall love for social media, even if tightly controlled by the country’s government, was a key to the latest crackdown. Xinhua News initially reported that invitations to join the underground World Cup betting networks even appeared on China’s WeChat forum and chat platform.
WeChat invitations were a central component of the May crackdown on the hold’em poker apps, which were used as a proxy for real-money underground games involved in May’s sweeping arrests. That Chinese authorities continue monitoring WeChat and other Chinese social-media networks remains a continuing theme in the “Operation Chain Break” crackdowns.
The World Cup itself also brings wave after wave of such crackdowns where widespread underground gambling exists but is officially banned. Many Asian and Pacific Rim countries fall into this category, and other countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, and the Philippines have conducted their own World Cup-wagering crackdowns in recent weeks.