Hong Kong and Shenzhen police broke up a 70-strong cross-border gambling syndicate and seized more than HK$100 million worth of illegal bets on World Cup soccer matches on the second day of the tournament.
Among those arrested were many cyber bookmakers who have moved their bases overseas and to the mainland, police said.
In Hong Kong, 19 men and six women, aged 34 to 67, were caught on Saturday night on suspicion of taking illegal soccer bets and handling the proceeds of crime. They were arrested during raids in Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, Kwun Tong, Cheung Sha Wan and North Point in an operation police codenamed Zonebuilder.
Seven are alleged core members of the ring and the rest are agents who collected wagers from gamblers. Some are triad members, police said.
Betting slips with a face value of HK$66 million, HK$640,000 in cash and about 20 computers were seized.
Shenzhen police arrested 45 people including three Hongkongers, one of whom is an alleged ringleader. They seized HK$47 million worth of bets.
The syndicate operated for more than six months and received about HK$100 million worth of bets every month.
This made it the largest such syndicate local police had broken up, said Superintendent Man Tat-shing of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau.
Most bets were placed through 13 of its websites and others by telephone, Man said. Gamblers either directly placed bets online or did it using an agent.
Man said he was unsure how many of the bets were put on World Cup matches but that there was heavy betting on the five matches on the first two days of the tournament.
The raids followed another late on Friday night, the opening day of the tournament, when police seized betting slips with a face value of about HK$16 million, half of them wagers on World Cup matches.
In the whole of last year, officers seized HK$39.7 million in operations against illegal bookmakers.
Man said a group comprising officers from the triad bureau, technology crime division, and the narcotics bureau was formed at the start of the year to combat illegal soccer gambling. It was designed to also co-ordinate joint operations with mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies.
Chief Inspector Ng Wai-hon of the triad bureau said bookmaking syndicates had ditched their old methods of phone calls and betting slips and set up gambling websites that were registered outside Hong Kong.
Man urged people to report illegal betting. Under the Gambling Ordinance, anyone who bets with a bookmaker is liable to a fine of HK$30,000 and nine months' imprisonment.
Shenzhen police seized HK$47 million worth of bets; Hong Kong police seized betting slips totalling, in HK dollars: $66m