According to a report in the South China Morning Post on 8 July 2010, Hong Kong police have seized HK$270m (US$35m) in unlawful bets during a crackdown on illegal bookmakers. This figure is a fourfold increase from the last World Cup in Germany in 2006.
Police have already arrested 70 illegal bookmakers in about 10 operations across the city. Further funds were expected to be seized as the tournament reached its finale.
Seven years ago the Hong Kong Government gave permission to the Jockey Club to run betting on soccer in an effort to combat illegal gambling. It even imposed the threat of fines and prison sentences for citizens discovered betting with illegal bookmakers. But it would seem the illegal bookmakers are as popular as ever, even though HKJC betting web site is one of the world’ largest.
The addictive gambling service in Hong Kong, Caritas, said calls to the service have increased since the start of the World Cup in South Africa. The hotline had taken double the amount of calls it usually does, rising to more than 1,000 last month. Some callers told Caritas that they had placed bets of up to HK$30,000.
The Organised Crime Unit at Hong Kong Police says that bookmaking syndicates have set up gambling websites to collect bets. The websites are registered outside Hong Kong and their operational base is on the mainland.
During the last six months HK$8bn has been taken in illegal bets. The police confirmed that one single bet was placed on a World Cup match for HK$1 million.
This presents a warning sign for European governments. As the market becomes more mature and gamblers become savvy they will seek value. There will always be those people in the black market who can step in to provide what gamblers feel is their “right” – fair value.
For the UK, the genie is out of the bottle. The market is mature. The gamblers want value and any tinkering with the system will allow criminals to provide the service legal operators cannot if the tax rate is uncompetitve.
France and Italy will undergo a honeymoon period where gamblers will be attracted to more legitimate choice but will soon realise that the offer is far less than it was prior to the market seemingly opening up. The gap will be filled by websites that will ignore social responsibility and have found ingenious ways to prevent blocking.