Betting syndicates move over the border
Clifford Lo and Simpson Cheung
Cross-border soccer betting syndicates have set up gambling websites that operate from mainland bases in an attempt to avoid detection.
Police say one website, run by the Wo Shing Wo triad society, was among several established recently before the Euro 2012 soccer tournament began yesterday.
Police believe dozens of these websites are touting for Hong Kong business. This was revealed as officers launched a citywide operation codenamed 'Crowbeak' to crack down on illegal betting.
It is understood officers will surf the websites and even pose as punters to place bets to collect information. A senior officer said intelligence would be collected and raids made on entertainment venues controlled by triads during the tournament.
He said illegal internet betting had become increasingly popular in recent years and the core people behind them included local gangsters. It was difficult to stop them because they operated outside the city. 'What we can do is to seek help from the mainland authorities,' he said.
The problem is reflected in a drop in the number of arrests and the amount of money and betting slips seized in the past two years.
Police said the number of people caught for illegal soccer gambling fell to 35 last year from 50 in 2010. The amount of cash and betting records seized plunged to HK$26.97 million from HK$50.76 million.
Punters choose to use websites because bookmakers accept bets on credit and also offer discounts and various betting combinations. They are given an account name and password to go online to place bets.
'To avoid detection, punters are told to pay into mainland bank accounts through remittance agents in Hong Kong,' another police officer said.
Simon Ho Siu-man, a counsellor with the Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Centre, said most gamblers who sought help were middle-aged men. But more youths had become addicted to soccer gambling in recent years.
Bets ranged from HK$10 to several hundred thousand dollars. They usually use websites or hotlines to place their bets.
Ho expected the centre to handle more cases during the Euro 2012 tournament. 'From past experience, when some big tournament kicks off, such as the World Cup, people tend to gamble more,' he said.
The amount of soccer bets, in HK dollars, collected by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in the 2010-11 financial year