Mark Six fever has swept the south of Fujian province, splitting families, draining money from the economy and driving people to seek psychiatric help.
The Economic Information Daily reported yesterday that the illegal gambling bug had become so serious, companies were writing clauses into contracts to prevent customers putting business deals at risk by playing Mark Six. If they breach the contracts, they become null and void and customers face financial penalties.
Gambling is illegal but widespread in China. Unlicensed lotteries using the results of horse racing in Hong Kong and Mark Six have appeared in many provinces.
The Mark Six craze began in southern Fujian at the end of last year after a police campaign in northern Guangdong shut down its operators, forcing organisers, including people from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Taiwan, to move north in search of business.
They targeted the cities of Xiamen and Zhangzhou initially but the fever soon spread to rural and mountain districts, with government and Communist Party officials, law enforcers and teachers all joining in, keen to make an instant fortune. Some punters are unemployed, while others give up their jobs to study the numbers.
One operator, Lin Lihua, formerly a tea merchant in Guangdong, paid 5,000 yuan (HK$4,700) to rent an office in a Xiamen commercial building, with five computers and three fax machines. He made a profit of 1.7 million yuan in two months from more than 100,000 clients.
But operators often disappear if they have to pay out too much. In one case, a man who won 1,000 yuan did not receive the payment because the person running the network in his county fled. Enraged, he kidnapped the son of the man who sold him the ticket before police intervened.
Some punters gamble their family's savings, provoking disputes in the home and street demonstrations by children unable to afford school books.
This year, one hospital in Xiamen has treated 20 people for mental illness resulting from gambling.
To stop the betting craze, the Communist Party in Zhangzhou has expelled five members and given warnings to 31 others, while Xiamen police have dealt with 112 cases involving 260 people, of whom they arrested 47.