An Australian man is believed to be among 52 people arrested in China last week for online gambling offenses, according to the Australian Financial Review.
The arrests were announced on February 7 by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, although no names of arrestees were reported. Likewise, AFR, did not disclose the identity of the Australian detainee, simply stating he was born in China but held an Australian passport and had been arrested in Jiangsu, a coastal province north of Shanghai.
Xinhua reported that members of the “online gambling group” were apprehended during raids by more than 200 police across 13 cities, the climax of an operation launched by investigators in Shenyang, north-east China.
Two of the individuals are accused of using rented internet servers to set up numerous gambling websites in the country.
The man’s nationality is significant because Australians have “previous” when it comes to breaking Chinese gambling laws. In October 2016, 19 Crown Resorts employees were arrested and eventually charged with marketing the Australian casino giant’s services to gamblers on the Chinese mainland.
The majority received prison sentences, among them three Australians, one of whom, Jason O’Connor, was a Crown executive.
The incident severely embarrassed Crown, prompting it to completely re-evaluate its international business strategies and undergo a significant corporate restructure. There are no suggestions, however, that the man arrested last week has any connection to Crown Resorts or any other Australian gambling company.
New Crackdown Not to Be Confused with Old Crackdown
Late last month, China’s Ministry of Public Security deputy minister, Huang Ming, announced a new crackdown on gambling within the country, as if there hadn’t already been an extensive crackdown ongoing for many years.
Since 2012, Chinese police have tackled 1.74 million cases of illegal gambling involving 5.93 million suspects.
But this specific crackdown has a new focus. Huang said that rural areas had become fertile breeding grounds for illicit gambling and ordered police to target the illegal banking networks that feed and thrive off the activity.
He also announced a campaign to curb gambling during the Chinese New Year celebrations, which are due to begin on Friday.
Meanwhile, China’s most popular social media mobile messaging app, WeChat, has warned users not to gamble on the platform during the celebrations.
Macau authorities have been struggling to contain the new trend for “proxy betting” via WeChat, in which action-starved gamblers on the mainland take bets on real games occurring in live casinos in the legal gambling hub.
WeChat said last month it had identified over 2,300 chat groups related to illegal gambling.