China's police authority on Friday announced they had bust a series of online soccer gambling rings during the World Cup, involving billions of yuan.
Gambling has been outlawed on the Chinese mainland since 1949 when New China was founded. But in recent years, sports events such as the World Cup have proved too tempting for betting fans.
In Beijing, police cracked four betting rings, arresting 24 people for their involvement in organizing online gambling for World Cup games.
One of the nine computers acting as gambling terminals was found to have been used for bets totaling more than 100 million yuan (12.5 million U.S. dollars) in one month, the police said.
"The way to run an online betting ring is similar to the way pyramid selling schemes work. An overseas betting company hires a chief agent to represent its business in the Chinese mainland and the chief agent goes on to hire layers of punters to place bets," said Jin Xiang, an official with Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.
A number of the betting rings were operated via the Internet from headquarters set up outside the Chinese mainland, said an official with Ministry of Public Security.
"This form of gambling poses a challenge to the police," said Xu Hu, vice head of the public order maintenance bureau under the ministry. "It is more difficult for us to detect gambling activities, to identify and reclaim betting funds."
"For gamblers, online betting is highly concealed, more convenient, and allows larger funds to be pulled into the game," Xu said, adding that gamblers would regularly change the pin for log-in and this made it hard for the police to track down the betting activities.
In the Beijing case, a suspect surnamed Guo told the police that he had been the chief agent for an overseas gambling ring in the Chinese mainland since 2003. Guo earned 90 percent of the betting profits and the ring's overseas headquarters earned the other 10 percent.
The gambling chain normally carries on within a circle of friends and relatives. Strangers are not allowed to participate, the police said, adding that gamblers cast their bets on the Internet or via telephone, and the payment will be transferred online.
The police did not say where the headquarters were based but sources close to the police said it was probably in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao.
Meanwhile, police in the southwestern province of Guizhou have arrested nine suspects running four online betting rings with headquarters in Macao and Taiwan. Roughly 2.6 million yuan in betting funds were seized.
In the southwestern city of Chengdu, police in late June also bust a one billion yuan gambling ring, which was operated by a Hong Kong based Website www.JL788.com. About 2,000 people were registered on the web.
Chengdu police have arrested 20 suspects responsible for running the web during the crackdown.
Company managers, private firm bosses, and employees of foreign companies are the most popular target punters, even if they know nothing about soccer, sources close to the betting ring in Chengdu told Xinhua.
Punters should first pay 50,000 to 100,000 yuan as guarantees and then can get an account to log on the secret website to gamble. All betting activities are supposed to be conducted online, the source said.
Police authority said the anti-gambling campaign has also made remarkable progress in Guangdong Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, close to Macao and Hong Kong.
In Guangdong, 33 suspects of gamble organizers were arrested, while in Guangxi, 48 were arrested with their rings attracting hundreds of millions yuan.
A bar tender in Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong, told Xinhua that quite a number of soccer fans engaged in gambling as they watched World Cup games in bars.
"They cast votes by sending text messages via mobile phone. And the overwhelming betting atmosphere in bars might easily tempt those who do not gamble to take a chance," the bar tender said, refusing to be named.