Gambling-mad Hongkongers expected to place HK$30 billion in black market bets during World Cup 2018

A report predicts surge from June 14 to July 15, when the world’s most popular sporting event takes place in Russia, could see value of illegally placed bets in city hit HK$500 billion by the end of this year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2018, 8:04am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2018, 3:27pm

Gambling-mad Hongkongers are poised to place HK$30 billion (US$3.8 billion) in black market bets during the Fifa World Cup in Russia next month, according to a new report by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

The predicted soccer gambling splurge – equivalent to one billion dollars a day for the duration of the month-long tournament – could see the value of illegally placed bets in the city reach HK$500 billion by the end of this year, the report obtained by the Post said.

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It went on to predict that illegal online and offline operators will reap a “clear profit” of HK$750 million from Hong Kong punters between June 14 when the world’s most popular sporting event begins and when it closes on July 15. 

The report also warned that much of that profit will be ploughed into criminal activities such as drug trafficking, people smuggling, match-fixing and prostitution rackets, as well as money laundering and extortion.

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“Illegal betting is a major revenue stream for organised crime,” said Martin Purbrick, director of security and integrity at the Jockey Club. “This is because it is relatively easy to operate, there is a low risk of detection as websites can be operated offshore, and there are substantial betting markets where there is a limited legal betting product.”

“The growth of mobile apps and online betting through mobile devices has resulted in a surge in the growth of illegal betting in the past 10 years, and we estimate that illegal betting is growing twice as fast as legal betting in Asia,” the former Hong Kong police officer added.

Predictions that next month’s tournament will generate unprecedented betting activity are based on the exponential growth in online gaming since the last Fifa World Cup in 2014. In addition, the number of countries in which online gambling is legal has grown rapidly. 

The Jockey Club report said football was by far the most popular choice for illegal gamblers in Hong Kong, outstripping horse racing, with 84 per cent of these gamblers placing illegal football bets in the past year. 

These illegal operators are able to offer such services with limitless staking and at unmatchable price points 
Rupert Bolingbroke, Hong Kong Jockey Club

The club’s head of trading, Rupert Bolingbroke, said: “Illegal operators maximise their content for this one-of-a-kind tournament, offering well in excess of 200 bet types per match and extending credit services in a bid to acquire new customers.

“Free from the burden of taxation, these illegal operators are able to offer such services with limitless staking and at unmatchable price points, with the customer and the community losing out as a result.”

The report also analysed hundreds of media reports from 2011 to 2017 and concluded that organised criminal involvement in illegal betting was rife, with triad groups controlling about half of all illegal betting operations in Hong Kong. 

Law enforcement action has seen ever-increasing sums seized from illegal betting raids during World Cups. Upwards of HK$70 million in cash and betting records were seized in raids on illegal bookmakers during World Cup 2002; the figure for the last World Cup, in 2014, was more than 10 times that.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club defines as illegal any bet placed with anyone other than the club itself. This includes unlicensed offline operators in Hong Kong, offshore operators outside Hong Kong and online operators both inside and outside the city.

Under the Betting Ordinance, anyone engaged in illegal bookmaking could face a fine of up to HK$5 million and seven years in jail. Betting with such dealers could lead to a fine of HK$30,000 and nine months in A jail.