Macau, 2014 World Cup, illegal sports betting

Authorities in Macau have worked with officials in other Asian jurisdictions to crack down on illegal World Cup 2014 sports betting. (Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip)

If you want to place a bet on a World Cup match, you can do so at hundreds of sites online, not to mention countless sportsbooks and betting shops in countries around the world. But as is often the case with major sporting events, illegal betting can dwarf the bets taken by these regulated institutions, as millions want to get a piece of the action wherever they can find it.

That’s even the case in Macau, the worldwide leader in gambling revenues. Police in the Chinese enclave reportedly broke up a betting syndicate that had taken approximately $645 million in bets on World Cup matches. The ring was operating out of an unnamed hotel, where they were using three rooms to coordinate taking bets both by phone and over the Internet.

22 Arrested in Raid

According to investigators from the Macau Judiciary Police, the bust resulted in the arrest of 22 people from mainland China, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Two individuals in particular (one from China, one from Malaysia) were believed to be the ringleaders of the group.

When the rooms were raided, police were able to seize about $248,000 in cash, as well as betting slips, 17 computers and ten or more cell phones belonging to the group. In at least one case, investigators say the ring took a bet of about $5 million from one gambler.

Second Ring Busted in Same Hotel

Finding such a large sports betting organization operating out of a hotel might seem shocking, but it turns out that the story would get even more unbelievable just hours later. That’s when police say they busted a second gambling ring in the same unnamed hotel. In this case, four Chinese men were arrested in connection with the operation, which was smaller but still taking in close to $650,000 in illegal World Cup bets on a typical day.

Macau is not the only Asian jurisdiction trying to crack down on illegal World Cup betting. According to a study by the International Center for Sport Security and Paris-Sorbonne University, more than half of all illegal sports bets are placed in Asia, even with many having the option to place legal bets there.

For instance, in Hong Kong, legal betting is handled by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. They do enough business to be one of the world’s leading betting operations, but say that illegal sports betting there generates around HK$500 million ($64.5 million) every year, or nearly four times as much as the Jockey Club.

Police have attempted to crack down on this, though, arresting 39 suspects in connection with illegal betting in the city since the start of the World Cup. In Singapore and Malaysia, police have arrested dozens of suspects they believe were offering illegal sports betting services.

While it hasn’t been made clear weather these arrests are connected in any way, it is known that police in several Asian jurisdictions have been working together to try to clamp down on the illegal operations. Police in Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese province of Guangdong are working together with Interpol in eight Asian nations in an attempt to stamp out the World Cup betting rings. Police believe that many such operations are run by criminal gangs.