Hong Kong and Guangdong police broke up a cross-border bookmaking racket that took in HK$8 billion in illegal bets in the past six months - mostly on soccer matches.
They arrested 93 people in the past two days, just as punters geared up for a gambling frenzy on the World Cup final. The tournament has seen a five-fold increase in illegal betting compared with the 2006 World Cup.
A police officer said one single bet on a World Cup soccer match was more than HK$1 million.
'Punters placed bets through several websites operated by the syndicate with the use of computer servers in Hong Kong and other Asian countries,' the officer said.
Superintendent Man Tat-shing of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau said it was the largest such syndicate Hong Kong police had broken up. 'The syndicate used over 400 bank accounts in Hong Kong and on the mainland to collect bets and launder the proceeds,' Man said.
Operational bases of the syndicate, which collected mainly online bets from gamblers in Hong Kong and the mainland, were uncovered by public security officers in Guangdong during a joint operation. Hong Kong police also seized an illegal bookmaking server.
Among those arrested were 10 alleged core members of the syndicate. Police said six Hongkongers were detained when mainland police raided the operational bases. Man said the rest included agents who collected wagers from gamblers.
The arrests began on Wednesday after a three-month investigation. In an operation code-named Copperflame 400, Hong Kong police arrested 64 people - 46 men and 18 women - mostly in their homes and seized betting records of HK$70 million, HK$770,000 in cash and 32 computers. At the same time, mainland police arrested 23 mainlanders and six Hong Kong core syndicate members in Guangdong. They seized betting records of 7 billion yuan (HK$8 billion).
Initial investigations indicated that more than 90 per cent of the illegal bets were put on soccer matches.
Police say the illegal bookmakers ditched their old methods of betting slips and phone calls and set up gambling websites outside Hong Kong to collect bets.
It is the second joint operation between Hong Kong and mainland police against illegal bookmaking during the World Cup. On June 12, Hong Kong and Shenzhen police broke up a cross-border gambling syndicate and seized more than HK$100 million worth of illegal bets.
Seventy people, including the Hong Kong ringleaders, were arrested.
After the latest operation, betting records seized by Hong Kong police during the tournament have soared to HK$350 million, a nearly fivefold increase from the figures during the previous tournament in 2006.
Since the start of the tournament on June 11, police have arrested 218 people in 82 cases. During the 2006 World Cup, 196 people were arrested in 99 cases and betting records totalling HK$74 million were seized. Chief Inspector Ng Wai-hon said the sharp increase in seizure of betting orders was the result of successful joint operations with mainland police.