Hong Kong police have smashed an international bookmaking syndicate and seized HK$78m (£7.5m) of bets in a crackdown on illegal gambling as sports fans around the globe celebrate the start of the World Cup.
On Wednesday night, Hong Kong police arrested 42 men and three women in raids on more than 20 locations across the city, with the ringleader and several core members of the syndicate believed to be amongst those now in custody.
In coordinated raids across the border, police arrested five men in Shenzhen and Dongguan, who are believed to be part of the same gang.
The operation, codenamed “Blazespike”, also resulted in the seizure of cash worth more than HK$2.5m (£240,000), a large number of computers and a small amount of drugs.
Gambling is strictly regulated in Hong Kong, with only licensed outlets able to legally take bets on horse racing, football, and the local lottery. Illegal bookmakers could face a maximum fine of HK$5m (£480,000) and up to seven years in jail, whilst those caught using their services could face a HK$30,000 (£2,900) fine and up to nine months’ imprisonment. However, the penalties have done little to slow the rapid growth of illegal gambling in the autonomous territory.
Gambling has long caused issues at the World Cup, both for fans and players. Earlier this year, former England midfielder Kieron Dyer revealed the scale of the gambling by national team players at Euro 2004. CasinoGaurdian reports that then team manager Sven-Goran Eriksson says he was unaware of the issue, but Dyer alleged that England’s performances suffered as a result of the card games that were going on, where some players ended up losing more than £100,000.
To keep the team away from gambling at this year’s World Cup in Moscow, England management is hoping to keep the players amused with the children’s card game Uno and the popular co-op sandbox survival game Fortnite.