Mainland Chinese police have teamed up with their counterparts in the country’s two special administrative regions for an all-out campaign against online sports betting during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. On Tuesday, police in Guangdong province announced they had agreed to improve information exchanges with police in Hong Kong and Macau in order to stem the flow of illegal online betting during the upcoming quadrennial football fever.
A source told the Hong Kong Standard that the Hong Kong police had formed an investigation team combining members of the criminal intelligence unit, the technology crime division and the Narcotics Bureau. The banking industry has been tasked with keeping an eye out for suspicious transactions leading up to the World Cup kickoff on June 12. Police units in Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have also agreed to assist one another in their war against the bookies.
While police will be actively monitoring land-based bars, pubs and other footie-watching venues to ensure no over-the-counter betting is taking place, police recognize that online betting sites will play an even bigger role in World Cup wagering than they did four years ago. Earlier this year, China’s Public Security Bureau vowed to ‘strike hard’ against gambling websites and their agents on the ground, saying the crackdown would “promptly sever access to gambling websites, servers, technical support and payment services.”
Such statements are intended to simultaneously bolster public faith in the authorities while striking terror in the heart of gambling operators. In reality, the authorities know all too well that stamping out online football wagering is akin to emptying the ocean with a thimble. Severing access to websites via IP-blocking is part of the traditional anti-betting arsenal, but China might choose to employ other, more drastic tactics this time around.
Vietnam and China are currently locked in a political squabble over China’s aggressive territorial claims in the waters bordering the two countries. Following the anti-Chinese riots that engulfed Vietnam last month, outraged Chinese hackers went on a rampage of their own, knocking hundreds of Vietnamese websites offline, including many government sites. The hacking was attributed to a group known as 1937cN, which claimed to be acting out of patriotic zeal rather than on direct orders from the Chinese government, but the interests of both citizen and state neatly intertwined in this instance.
If the Chinese government were to publish a list of online betting sites that refused to cease their Chinese-facing operations, patriotic hackers could see the necessity in taking out these sites at their source, rather than merely blocking their domains at the border. With online betting playing an ever-larger role with each successive World Cup, it would seem only a matter of time before Chinese authorities consider taking this route themselves.