Police made a late tackle on 12 suspected illegal bookmakers and seized records of soccer bets totalling over HK$37.7 million as the World Cup began yesterday.
Officers launched the operation, codenamed "Crowbreak", while the players of Brazil and Croatia warmed up for the opening game in Sao Paulo, which began at 4am Hong Kong time. The records seized showed many of the bets were on that game.
Some HK$208,000 in cash, 11 computers, two tablet computers and seven televisions were seized from seven flats across the city, along with four mobile phones and three account books.
Shortly after 3am, members of the elite organised crime and triad bureau arrested four men at a flat in Yuen Long On Ning Road, Yuen Long.
"Inside, police seized HK$15 million worth of betting records, HK$40,000 in cash, seven televisions and two computers," a police spokeswoman said.
Another team arrested two suspected members of the 14k triad in North Point and confiscated records showing HK$8 million taken in bets.
The New Territories North anti-triad squad picked up three suspected bookies when they raided three flats in Cheung Sha Wan, Tuen Mun and Tin Shui Wai before daybreak.
Another team arrested a suspected triad member and seized records showing HK$2 million worth of bets, a computer and a mobile phone in Kung Um Road, Yuen Long, at 5.30am.
Separately, officers caught a 41-year-old suspected triad member and seized records of HK$2.75 million in bets and three account books in Kowloon City.
After daybreak, Kwai Tsing police raided a flat in Tsing Yi, arrested a suspected bookie and seized HK$40,000 in cash and records of HK$7,000 in bets.
The raids concluded at about the same time hosts Brazil made a spectacular comeback to record a 3-1 victory. Last night, 12 men were being questioned. No one had been charged.
Gambling was the last thing on the minds of the large Brazilian contingent at a bar on Elgin Street in Central. "Football is a religion in Brazil… We don't see much Brazilian football here, and whenever the national team is on, [watching] is a priority," said banker Marcos Fonseca, 49.
Personal trainer Priscilla Diniz, 32, summed up her determination to remain awake. "It is tough to stay up late but we do everything for Brazil to show our support for them outside Brazil."
But the early morning kick-off kept many people at home. An inspection along Hollywood Road and Lan Kwai Fong in Central showed no more than three bars screening the match live.
Hong Kong police have set up a task force with Macau and Guangdong authorities and Interpol to fight illegal betting during the World Cup. Last week, Hong Kong and Guangdong police smashed a cross-border gambling syndicate that took up to HK$500 million a day.
Illegal soccer gambling was said to be worth HK$500 billion last year - four times what the Jockey Club took in legal racing and soccer bets.