All bets are off for an illegal World Cup gambling ring in Hong Kong after police busted the illicit sportsbook this week.

World Cup gambling

World Cup betting is a billion dollar business around the globe. (Source: bbc.com)

The sting operation, dubbed “Blazespike”, led to the arrests of 42 men and three women. Officials also confiscated $9.9 million worth of bets, $320,000 in cash, a network of computers, and a small drug stash.

The accused are now facing charges of illegal bookmaking and managing unlawful gaming establishments,  which could land them hefty fines in addition to jail sentences.

Police believe that they have broken up this particular betting ring for good.

“Preliminary investigation shows that those arrested include the mastermind and core members of the syndicate. Some of them have a triad background,” a police statement read.

A sister operation saw police in China arrest five additional men accused of being part of the same ring.

History Repeated

While the collar is a big one, and particularly noteworthy considering the World Cup just kicked off this week, it pales in comparison to some of the biggest busted gambling rings of all time.

That includes another illegal World Cup betting ring that was broken up the last time the tournament was played.

In 2014, 22 people were arrested as Chinese police busted a World Cup bookmaking syndicate in Macau. Some US$645 million in bets were seized in that operation, about 70 times more than the amount confiscated in this this week’s raid.

While the scale is smaller this time around, it seems that the lure of the sports betting business is proving too lucrative for criminal organizations like the triad to ignore.

Now, those implicated could face fines upwards of $US640,000 and nine months in jail. Punters who placed bets may not be off the hook either; they could be hit with fines of $US3,820.

Laying Legit Bets

Of course, bettors who want a piece of the action on the World Cup don’t need to do it through illegal books. You may get slightly better odds by betting there, but you probably won’t like the guy who comes to collect when you lose.

Both New Jersey and Delaware now have regulations in place to accommodate legal sports wagers at physical locations. Delaware has betting windows at three casinos, while New Jersey started accepting bets at Monmouth Park racetrack this week. And of course, there’s always Las Vegas.

While betting on the World Cup may not be the biggest draw stateside, especially with the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team not playing in the tournament, it’s massive business elsewhere.

British bookmaker Betfair disclosed that it expects to handle about US$3.3 billion in wagers over the course of the 2018 tournament. Tabcorp in Australia is anticipating revenues to rise by US$104 million thanks to betting action on the World Cup.

Soccer’s biggest event kicked off in Russia this week, with the final set for July 15.