China’s biggest mobile messaging platform, WeChat, announced this week it has deleted 50,000 accounts and 8,000 group chats related to soccer betting during the World Cup so far.

WeChat

China’s Sports Lottery is the only legal way mainlanders can bet on the World Cup — and sales have gone crazy — but the nation’s biggest social messaging app has been busy weeding out illegal soccer gambling. (SCMP)

WeChat said that a Chinese government crackdown ahead of the tournament had taken hundreds of sports betting websites offline, which had caused betting activities to migrate to social platforms.

“We appeal to the majority of users to watch the World Cup rationally, to appreciate the competitive nature of football and respect the spirit of the game, and keep away from gambling,” the company said.

One Billion Active Users

Fifty thousand sounds like a lot, but it’s a drop in the ocean. The WeChat app is one of the biggest social media platforms in the world. As of Q1, 2018, it had one billion active monthly users, 90 percent of whom are based in China.

But WeChat has also become a target for heavy government censorship. The company has two separate censorship policies, one for its Chinese users and one for the rest of the world. Despite this, its dual functionality as a social messaging and payments platform has made it a convenient tool for illegal bookmakers, and for bettors looking to swerve China’s prohibition on gambling.

Proxy gambling is big in China and WeChat acts as a conduit for Chinese citizens to bet via a third-party on foreign sports betting sites or even at live casinos.

Macau has been forced to ban proxy betting at its casinos — to prevent Chinese mainlanders from making bets on the results of real casino games. These are bets that were often arranged — and the results communicated or streamed — in real-time, via WeChat.

Sports Lottery Skyrockets

China has gone soccer crazy in the past month and its only legal gambling channel beyond the Welfare Lottery — the Sports Lottery — has been doing a brisk trade, to put it mildly.

The Sports Lottery allows players to predict the scores of a series of games – usually international soccer matches. According to the official Sports Lottery website, the equivalent of around $4 billion was wagered during the first two weeks of the World Cup alone.

That’s around 300 percent more than at the same stage during the 2014 competition in Brazil, which itself saw a 384 percent rise. Analysts suggests handle for the entire tournament could be roughly $7.5 billion.