Chinese Court Sentences Illegal Gambling Operators to Life in Prison
Chinese state-run media service Xinhau reported that the Intermediate People’s Court in the Jilin province city of Baishan sentenced two illegal gambling ringleaders to life in prison. A dozen other suspects received shorter sentences, though Xinhua reported those sentences were still “harsh”.
The two unnamed gambling syndicate ringleaders operated an illegal online lottery ring which operated out of Fiji. The group, which collected bets from China, Indonesia, and Fiji, generated over $900,000 from their scheme until they were busted in July 2017.
Chinese investigators got interested in the ring when more than 50 Chinese mainland residents became victims of the illegal lottery. A team of Chinese police were sent to Fiji on July 2nd last year. They raided 5 locations on July 18 and made arrests, along with the confiscation of mobile smartphones, desktop computers, bank cards, and other gambling paraphenalia.
Xinhua’s story did not mention if the Chinese police squad used a formal extradition process for its raids in Fiji.
July 2017 Raid in Fiji
Whatever the case, Chinese police returned from Fiji with seventy-seven alleged members of the online gambling ring. It is a part of a decided effort to hunt down cross-border illegal gambling operators. Chinese authorities have worked with Philippine counterparts to conduct raids on transnational cyber gambling operations in Southeast Asian countries.
Those raids have led to the shutting down of four illegal gambling websites, along with the arrest of 99 gaming organizers, and the seizure or freeze of more than 1,000 bank accounts in April 2017 alone. The raids of 2017 sent a clear signal that offshore illegal gaming operators which target Chinese customers are not safe anywhere in the world.
Online Lottery, Online Scam Artists
The ringleaders who were sentenced this week had bases of operations in China’s Guangdong province, along with Indonesia and Fiji. The operation, which lasted about 15 months, was more of an online scam than a real lottery service.
The scammers contacted unsuspecting Chinese residents on WeChat and QQ to encourage them to buy lottery tickets and scratch cards that did not exist, thus cheating people out of their hardearned money. Chinese authorities said that RMB153m (US$22m) was stolen by the scammers in that way before the crime ring was shut down. (It is unknown how this is reconciled with the $900k claimed to have been pocketed — and difficult to fact check.)
280 Sentenced to Jail in Crime Ring
In all, 280 people were sentenced. The bulk of the 280 other members of the criminal organization were given sentences ranging from 6 months to 15 years, depending on their level of involvement in the scheme. Amazingly, 8 members of the ring were given no sentence, because they were said to have minimal participation in the scam.
Chinese law enforcement has a 99% conviction rate. Unlike western governments, Chinese police conduct deep investigations of their targets and tend to have open-and-shut cases in the court system. Judges have an assumption of guilt, where most western countries have an assumption of innocence.
Anhai Online Casino Arrests
In an unrelated case, police in the Anhai province arrested 8 people accused of organizing illegal online casino play. The online casino collected RMB100m from roughly 500 Chinese gamblers. Investigators were tipped off to the ring in July 2018 when a disgruntled customer who lost RMB130k over several months complained to authorities.
Chinese gamblers have few legal options to engage in betting — and fewer all the time. A few state-run sports lotteries existed online, but the Beijing authorities ordered the end of online lotteries in March 2015. Those lotteries were massively popular, but the Beijing government has shown no sign of reversing the ban.
Chinese Ban on Poker Gaming
In fact, Beijing seems to be more restrictive than ever. Earlier this year, the Culture & Tourism Ministry was created out of the former Culture Ministry and Tourism Ministry. Almost immediately, the new Culture & Tourism minister announced a ban on all references to poker on social media sites.
The ban included terms like “Texas Hold’em” and “all-in”. The ban caused Macau casinos to shut down their poker rooms, because they could not advertise events on Chinese mainland online sites. They also feared opprobrium from Beijing authorities, as well as Macau officials fearful of defying Beijing’s dictates.
Players defy the laws at their own risk. Unlike the United States, individual residents who engage in illlegal online play face penalties and imprisonment themselves. While illegal players do not receive the harsh sentences that organizers receive, they face much harsher punishment than they would in the west — and possible lowering of their social credit score. It is inadviseable for Chinese residents to play online illegally.