Interpol seizes US$2.2b worth of bets as illegal gambling on World Cup soars

HK, mainland police net HK$750m as gambling on tournament soars in Asia, with 1,400 arrests

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 July, 2014, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 2:58pm

Illegal bets seized across Asia during the soccer World Cup totalled 14 times the amount confiscated during the last tournament four years ago, as punters splurged unprecedented amounts on the contest.

Interpol said yesterday that the illicit bets placed in the region amounted to US$2.2 billion, eclipsing the US$155 million seized in 2010.

This year's haul included almost US$12 million seized during a six-week operation by enforcers from Hong Kong, Macau, the mainland, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

During the Interpol-coordinated operation from June 1 to July 13, more than 1,400 people were arrested in 1,000 raids on illegal gambling dens, many controlled by organised crime gangs which took bets mainly through the internet.

Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol's executive director of police services, said a coordinated response was needed to combat international syndicates which used the gambling profits for other crimes.

"Illegal gambling generates massive profits for organised crime networks which are often linked to corruption, human trafficking and money laundering," he said.

Hong Kong and mainland police alone seized HK$750 million in illegal soccer bets - more than double the amount taken in 2010.

Jockey Club experts told the Post earlier that the illegal sports betting market in Hong Kong generated HK$500 billion in turnover last year while punters in the city lost HK$12 billion in illicit bets.

Even before this year's tournament started, a large cross-border operation in early June found evidence of HK$370 million worth of illegal betting.

This was in addition to illegal betting slips totalling HK$380 million seized by authorities during the tournament.

In the operation with mainland authorities on June 8, police seized illegal betting slips worth 320 million yuan (HK$397 million) for other soccer matches and horse racing from the gang's base in Guangdong.

Three men - one of them from Hong Kong - were arrested in Shenzhen during the operation. The Hongkonger was believed to have been in Shenzhen to assist the mastermind in running the syndicate's website.

The mastermind - also a Hongkonger - was arrested in Hong Kong along with about 20 others from the same syndicate.

"This is a massive cross-border illegal betting syndicate," Chief Superintendent Eddie Ma Chi-kin, of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, said.

In the past four weeks, authorities on both sides of the border also arrested 176 people - all Chinese aged between 20 and 65 - who were involved in both placing and taking soccer bets through illegal channels.

Hong Kong police broke up 97 operations after raiding some 140 locations including bars. They seized the equivalent of HK$13 million worth of cash in yuan, Hong Kong dollars, Macau patacas and Taiwanese dollars while confiscating 62 computers.

Thirty-nine of those arrested were suspected of having triad connections.