Every four years, the FIFA World Cup is a chance for people to come together and celebrate the beautiful game, and for some lucky enough to be born in a country with a successful soccer team, cheer on their nation’s team in a quest for glory. For some, however, the World Cup is also a way to make some money on the side, as evidenced by an illegal cryptocurrency gambling ring worth 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) in bets that was recently busted by Chinese police.
Police in southern Guangdong province said in an online statement on the 12th of July, 2018 that they apprehended six major suspects of the ring, froze about five million yuan (around US$733,000) in their bank accounts, and seized around 10 million yuan worth of their cryptocurrencies.
The gambling platform ran in a part of the web that is not indexed by traditional search engines, and only accepted Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. During the eight months of the gambling ring’s existence, the site attracted 330,000 registered users from numerous countries, and had over 8,000 agents who earned commissions for recruiting new members through a pyramid scheme, according to the police.
The police statement goes on to explain that, thanks to the lack of effective regulation on cryptocurrencies, the gambling syndicate exploited that loophole to make huge profits.
The cryptocurrency ring bust is but the latest development in the Chinese government’s efforts to securitize cryptocurrency. Last September, the government shut down all local crypto exchanges and banned Initial Coin Offerings (ICO), a form of crowdsourced fundraising involving cryptocurrencies, amid fears they could create financial instability. In late July, 2018, the Chinese central bank announced that the yuan-bitcoin trading pair has dropped to less than one percent of the world’s total bitcoin trading, according to Xinhua.
Recent Developments in China’s Crackdown on Gambling
Gambling in the World Cup is a major venture in China, but the government has been taking several steps to crack down on the practice. Aside from two officially sanctioned lotteries, gambling is largely illegal in China.
In a separate statement, Guangdong police have stated that they arrested a total of 540 suspects from over 20 gambling rings, and frozen 260 million yuan (around US$38 million) related to illegal gambling, in a special campaign to crack down on World Cup gambling. However, they have noted that the use of cryptocurrency “is most representative of the new-type of online football gambling so far.”
The Bottom Line
While busting gambling rings, especially with regards to the FIFA World Cup, is nothing new to the police in China, the use of cryptocurrencies worth hundreds of millions of dollars is another sign that while the lack of regulation has allowed cryptocurrencies to flourish, it has also allowed them to be used in an illicit, underhanded manner. While the Chinese government and police and continue to bust these rings, more preventative measures might stop cryptocurrencies from being used in criminal activities.