All-encompassing mega app WeChat yesterday announced that they had removed 50,000 accounts and deleted a further 8,000 group chats related to gambling since the World Cup 2018 got underway in Russia just under a month ago.
Gambling is officially illegal in China, though that hasn’t stopped people’s phones from being inundated with spam text messages about the practice or from WeChat users’ feeds filling up with friends talking about which team they’re betting on during the World Cup. And in a classic China contradiction, while betting is officially illegal there are a number of State-run gambling systems, including the China Sports Lottery, which is the second biggest lottery in the world.
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“During the World Cup, World Cup gambling websites have been shut down by the government, causing some betting activities to migrate to social platforms,” read a statement from WeChat. “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.”
Or at least, away from illegal gambling. Forbes reported that during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, China Sports Lottery’s match betting sales jumped by an incredible 384.3% and that in the first quarter of this year, the State-run organization’s sales were already at 16.5 billion USD. In the first three weeks of the World Cup, reports betting site Calvin Ayre, the Sports Lottery raked in 28.6 billion RMB (4.3 billion USD) in sales.
Many illegal World Cup betting sites and WeChat accounts act as a proxy for Chinese citizens to bet via overseas gambling outlets. One such operation in Beijing that was shut down by the authorities this past weekend, resulting in the arrests of 46 individuals, had reportedly handled 320 million RMB (48 million USD) in bets.
Cover photo: Group chats showing World Cup odds in an image released by WeChat.
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