Police from Hong Kong and Mainland China cooperated on a raid of a cross-border illegal gambling ring on the eve of the World Cup. The police agencies said 50 people were arrested in the joint operation, including the suspected ringleader, and nearly $10 million of illegal gambling money was seized. Several raids were conducted across Hong Kong and China to nab all the possible suspects.
Industrial Area Site of Raid
The investigation that led to the raid began with undercover operations in an industrial area of Hong Kong, which was busy at all times of the day and night but would not attract attention if there were increased traffic in the area. The factory where the alleged illegal gambling occurred had been turned into a casino by one of the area’s crime syndicates for their regular high-rolling customers. Sports betting was taking place at the club, including betting on the outcome of the World Cup. In addition, bets were taken on horse races. Gamblers could also use illegal slot machines and drink while they wagered on games.
It is estimated that, in this raid alone, $78 million in records on the illegal bets were confiscated, as well as other records for betting on soccer matches, which were about $32 million. Drugs, illegal weapons, and gaming machines were also seized. The entire operation took approximately one month to put into place, and police estimate more will continue because of the worldwide attention given the World Cup, which began June 14 and runs through mid-July.
The idea that the 2018 World Cup is the only time the Chinese and Hong Kong governments have been partners with regard to illegal crime is misguided. During the 2014 World Cup, the task force managed to find records totaling $750 million and arrested 176 people for bookmaking and money laundering. Hong Kong still has penalties for people who are arrested for breaking gambling laws.
People who are charged with illegal bookmaking can be fined up to $5 million and spend seven years in jail. People who are caught gambling can be fined as much $30,000 and spend nine months in prison. The penalties seem excessive, but the Hong Kong government is dedicated to making sure illegal gambling gets shut down so the proceeds from legal gambling go to the government for social programs.
Other Items Seized
Interestingly, it was not just the illegal gambling that interested the Chinese government. The government was also looking to seized counterfeit merchandise on sale for the global event. Hong Kong police, in particular, are trying to crack down on clothing being sold without permission. So far, the Hong Kong government has seized more than 250,000 pieces of merchandise with a value of $15 million in its raids. This number includes 57,000 jerseys, 29,000 purses and sports bags, and 50,000 pairs of shoes.
While the Chinese government is a firm believer in commerce with regard to buying merchandise, it wants it to go through legal channels, so it can receive the tax on the merchandise, especially since the World Cup is a huge sporting event, not just in China, but all over the world. Soccer is the most popular sport in nearly every country with the exception of the United States.
The Chinese government is working very hard to crack down on illegal gaming during the World Cup. But, it will be difficult for the government to completely rid itself of gambling because of the sheer size of the country and the number of illegal gaming establishments involved, which is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
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