Macau police hold seven over WeChat operation to take bets on casino games

The ‘sophisticated’ scheme involving punts on actual baccarat games was said to have made US$1.3 million last month

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 April, 2017, 10:43pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 April, 2017, 11:58pm

Macau police have broken up a multi-million dollar racket in which high-stakes gamblers placed remote real-time bets at the VIP tables of casinos using WeChat, mainland China’s biggest social messaging platform.

Seven people – all from the mainland province of Zhejiang – have been arrested for running what the city’s Judiciary Police called a “sophisticated’’ operation allowing gamblers on the mainland to bet on the results of actual baccarat games taking place in casino VIP rooms.

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The racket, which highlights in a new way the long-standing problem of so-called “side betting’’ in the world’s most lucrative gaming hub, raked in US$1.3 million in bets last month alone, according to the authorities.

The authorities have not identified the casinos where the racket was operating.

However, the police did divulge that bets would be arranged and results communicated in real-time via WeChat.

Judiciary Police spokesman Tam Weng Keong said the gang serviced around 40 daily customers, adding that the operation had a clear division of labour.

Two to three gang members would be sent to gamble at the tables and report the results of each game immediately via text in their WeChat group, Tam said.

Gamblers were given around 70 seconds to place their bets.

The minimum bet was set at HK$300 and part of the appeal appears to have been that there was no upper limit for the wager.

“The suspects were very well-organised in splitting their tasks. Every one had their own position.

“For instance, the first and the sixth suspect were responsible for handling accounting via the computer and controlled the wagering of their accomplices in the casino.

“The second and third suspects were mainly responsible for collecting bets from the [WeChat] group members,” Tam told GGRAsia, a website dedicated to the Asian casino industry.

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The racket had been running for at least a month, the Macau authorities said.

The gang was believed to have made its profits by charging players commissions and by making hedging bets over baccarat game results.

Investigations are continuing and the police believe a number of suspects remain at large.

Operated by Tencent Holdings – which was co-founded by tycoon Pony Ma Huateng – WeChat, known as Weixin on the mainland, had 846 million monthly active user accounts as of September 30 last year.

The service is now a part of daily life on the mainland, enabling users to do everything from hailing taxis and shopping to paying utility bills and navigating the streets.

Recent share price surges have made Tencent the largest Asian company by market capitalisation.