Thirty-two agents of several gambling websites went on trial in Liaoning yesterday in a case involving up to 5.8 billion yuan in bets, the mainland's biggest.
It was not known how many people had placed bets through the websites, allegedly set up by Yang Xu and his wife, Wang Jun , two years ago when they were laid off work. But some wagered millions of yuan on each bet and used bank loans secured with their houses or cars to finance their habit, the Liaoshen Evening News reported.
Police said more than 100 agents joined the illegal group, but only half had been caught - the 32 on trial in Fushun's Shuncheng district court and 10 kingpins, including Yang and Wang, who were still under investigation.
The group was allegedly set up in November 2005 when Wang and Yang first learned about online football gambling. The couple built their organisation into a pyramid-selling structure, with several layers of agents. The agents reaped profits by attracting gamblers to register and received commissions from organisers.
A procuratorate official from Fushun said only rich people, or agents' relatives or friends, could open gambling accounts with the website. Some gamblers were ordinary workers or office clerks and others were private entrepreneurs.
Last year the group took bets amounting to 2.77 billion yuan and charged 250,000 yuan in commission, up from bets worth 640 million yuan in 2005 and 150,000 yuan in commission.
A Beijing white-collar worker said it was common for people to gamble on major overseas football games.
'Last year during the World Cup period, I and several friends poured thousands of yuan each through another friend's online account. We won a small amount of money,' said the man, who only gave his name as Mr Li.
Mr Li said he knew that in most circumstances gambling organisers won and most individual gamblers lost.
'We are fond of playing football and it is natural that we bet on which team will win the match,' he said. 'But there are other people who have little knowledge of football and gamble on matches. I think we gamble just like others play mahjong - it is a kind of recreation.'
Mr Li said the organisers he used had a good credit reputation and transferred winnings to gamblers through the online banking system.
In May, an online gambling group involving more than four billion yuan was busted in Jiangsu .
Taking a chance
The money spent on illegal lotteries is estimated to be 15 times more than that spent on legal lotteries
The estimated number of yuan said to be flowing out of the mainland through illegal lotteries 600b
SOURCE: CHINA CENTRE FOR LOTTERY STUDIES