Police have arrested a number suspects in Hong Kong and mainland China in efforts to break up illegal gambling activities ahead of the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament.
Fifty people were arrested during police raids and $9.9m (£7.47m) worth of betting records were seized. Those arrested in Hong Kong were aged between 24 and 62 years old; 42 of them are men, and three are women. On the mainland, five people were arrested, and a small amount of money was seized. It is believed these suspects belong to the same gang as those detained in Hong Kong.
This comes as Macau reports that it expects to see its revenue drop this month due to its Chinese clients spending their gambling money on World Cup bets as opposed to the territory’s casinos, which goes to show how significant World Cup betting is in the country.
At one of the Hong Kong locations, 18 people were arrested in an industrial unit that had been turned into a makeshift casino. One law enforcement officer said: “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.” Police found betting records with a value of approximately $4m (£3.2m) as well as 400 bottles of alcohol, and around $25,500 (£192,400) in cash. Computers, gambling equipment, and drugs were also collected during the operation. These discoveries led law enforcement officers to say they believed they may have discovered an illegal betting ring.
The Jockey Club estimates Hong Kong’s illegal betting turnover this year, including the World Cup, will be at least $68bn (£51bn).
Police closing in
Ahead of this month’s World Cup, Hong Kong officials have announced they will be cracking down on illegal betting as well as working to remove fake goods from circulation. Between 30 April and 13 June this year, 21 people were arrested in connection with over 20 different counterfeit goods cases. The total value of items seized during this period equates to approximately $1.9m (£1.4m), interestingly, most of the clothing that was seized bore the FIFA logo.
The 2018 FIFA tournament is also an occasion for the police to catch those betting illegally online. During the 2014 World Cup, law enforcement seized over $95m (£71m) worth of illegal betting records and arrested 176 people for betting and money-laundering related offenses. There are significant consequences for operating as an illegal bookmaker, with hefty fines and prison sentences handed out in many of the cases.
The latest in a series of finds
The latest operations come less than a week after officials seized $167,500 (£126,000) worth of betting slips in Hong Kong’s prisons as security operations and searches increased ahead of the World Cup. Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department said that 45 inmates were caught either placing bets or in possession of gambling materials. Operations were stepped up as early as the start of this year, with those working in the region’s prisons.
Following on from the last World Cup’s searches, this year’s operations have been further increased by 50% in order for the service to stay on top of the issue. On other occasions, homemade alcohol has also been discovered during gambling raids. However, a new flammable liquid detector introduced earlier this year has reportedly helped with this aspect of the problem.
With efforts stepped up, this latest bust could be just the start of things to come, with police on red alert throughout the month-long tournament.