A cross-border bookmaking syndicate was broken up in a joint operation by Hong Kong and mainland police, with the arrest of 50 people and the seizure of HK$78 million (US$9.9 million) in betting records on the eve of the World Cup’s kick-off. Hong Kong police picked up 42 men and three women, aged between 24 and 62, in raids on more than 20 locations across the city on Wednesday night. The force said initial investigations showed the suspected ringleader and core figures in the syndicate were among those arrested. Across the border, Guangdong province police arrested five mainland men in Shenzhen and Dongguan and seized a small amount of cash. The five suspects were believed to be members of the same gang. In one of the raids in Hong Kong, the suspected mastermind – a local – was one of 18 suspects caught in an industrial unit on Hok Cheung Street, Hung Hom, that had been turned into a private clubhouse for regular clients of the syndicate. “Initial investigations showed that clients could place bets on football matches and horse racing on the premises, where they were offered red wine and played on arcade game machines,” a law enforcement source said. Inside the “clubhouse”, officers from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau found and confiscated betting records for football matches and horse racing with a face value of HK$32 million, along with HK$200,000 in cash and about 400 bottles of liquor. During the operation, code-named “Blazespike”, local police seized a total of HK$78 million in betting records, more than HK$2.5 million in cash, a large number of computers, gambling tools and a small amount of drugs. Prison officers seize HK$1.3 million in betting slips The force believes the operation has successfully dismantled an illegal betting ring. Officers are looking into how long the syndicate had been in operation. Police said investigations were ongoing and it was possible that further arrests would be made. During the Fifa World Cup in Russia running from Thursday until July 15, the force will intensify its crackdown on illegal bookmaking. The month-long operation is coordinated by the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau. On top of deploying officers to raid bars and game centres across the city, police will step up intelligence gathering and cyber patrols. Ahead of this year’s World Cup matches, Hong Kong Customs launched a special anti-infringement operation and enhanced inspection at various control points. The operation began on April 30. Hong Kong cracks down on illegal betting and fake soccer goods ahead of World Cup Between April 30 and Wednesday, customs officers seized 259,000 pieces of suspected counterfeit goods with an estimated street value of HK$15.3 million and arrested five people in 21 cases. The seized items included 180,000 pieces of apparel and accessories, 50,000 pairs of shoes and 29,000 bags. The apparel included 57,000 pieces of jerseys, among which 50,000 pieces bear suspected forged Fifa trademarks, according to the Customs and Excise Department. The items were seized from 12 shipping containers, four goods vehicles and a batch of air parcels. The operation was ongoing, the department said. Police focus on cyber efforts during World Cup as bookies go digital Police operations during the 2014 World Cup resulted in the seizure of betting records worth more than HK$750 million. Police searched a total of 140 locations in the city and arrested 176 people for offences including engaging in bookmaking, betting with a bookmaker and money laundering. In Hong Kong, anyone engaged in illegal bookmaking could face a fine of up to HK$5 million and seven years in jail under the Gambling Ordinance. Betting with such illegal bookmakers could lead to a fine of HK$30,000 and nine months in prison.