“WeChat” Betting Operation Busted in Macau

Posted on: April 14, 2017, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: April 14, 2017, 11:42h.

Seven Chinese nationals have been arrested in Macau, accused of operating a highly unusual illegal betting ring involving high stakes baccarat and the Chinese social messaging service WeChat.

Macau WeChat gambling ring
WeChat is Chinese biggest social messaging service but it has in the past been used as a tool to facilitate illegal gambling through its “digital red envelopes.” (Image: Sheng Li Digital)

According to Macau’s Judiciary police, the gang encouraged gamblers on the Chinese mainland to bet on the results of real baccarat games taking place at the VIP tables of Macau properties. Bets would be arranged, and results communicated, in real-time, via WeChat.

During a Thursday briefing, Judiciary Police spokesman Tam Weng Keong said the gang had around 40 daily customers and that the operation had handled some $1.3 million in bets in the previous month.

Sophisticated Operation

Two to three members would be sent to gamble at the tables and report the results of each game immediately via text in their WeChat group, according to Tam.

Their customers were given around 70 seconds to place their bets. Part of the appeal appears to have been that there was no upper limit for the wager.

“The suspects were very well organized in splitting their tasks,” Tam told reporters. “Every one had their own position: for instance, the first and the sixth suspect were responsible for handling accounting via the computer, and controlled the wagering of their accomplices in the casino. The second and third suspects were mainly responsible for collecting the bets from the [WeChat] group members.”

The group made money by charging player commissions and by hedging bets on the game results. Police said they believe the operation realized around $150,000 in profits in the previous month.

Red Envelope Gambling

The operation was uncovered following a police raid on a flat in the Nam Van district of Macau, which police believed was being used as an unlicensed guesthouse.

Officers became suspicious that illegal gambling was being conducted from the property and seized a computer which was found to contain records of betting results.

The seven detainees were all from from Zhejiang province, said Tam, adding that some members of the group were still believed to be at large.

“So far, we haven’t found any signs of a collaboration between these suspects and the local junkets,” Tam told GGRAsia.

WeChat was recently forced to clampdown on users who were abusing its “Hongbao” facility, which permits the exchange virtual credits that can be used for online purchases or withdrawn as cash.

The facility was intended to act as a “digital red envelope,” a reference to the small packets of money the Chinese give one another at celebrations like weddings and during Chinese New Year, but many of WeChat’s 700 million users effectively turned it into a betting exchange.