China Obsessed over Online Soccer Betting

Soccer (football) fever is at an all-time high in China, with the 2016 European Championships currently going on. And this has led to a big spike in online soccer betting among the Chinese.

Online gambling is illegal in China, but that hasn’t stopped people from using private groups, chat services, and apps like Alibaba to place their bets. Alibaba and other tech companies like Tencent have tried cracking down on gambling apps to discourage the activity, but it hasn’t curbed online soccer betting as a whole.

“There are so many gamblers, groups and platforms during the European Cup, though, that I think it’s really hard to find all of them,” said a Chinese gambler named Li, who lost thousands of yuan betting on Portugal to beat Austria (in regulation) in the Euro Cup.

According to Fortune, Chinese police say they’ve seen a large increase in illegal online gambling. One bust last week saw police in southern Guangdong arrest 147 people and freeze 100 million yuan ($15 million).

The Public Security Ministry has arrested 236 people overall across four provinces for illegally betting on the Euro Cup.

Due to this heightened betting activity, Alibaba and Tencent have beefed up their anti-gambling safeguards in order to prevent illegal gambling. Ant Financial, which operates the Alibaba affiliate company Alipay, has a three-tiered system in place to block gambling.

“If we find suspicious accounts, then we are going to freeze the account directly,” said Ant Financial spokeswoman Miranda Shek. “It only takes a few hours from the first to the last step.”

The big reason why Chinese citizens are more interested in soccer than ever before is due to the investments that have been made into the game. Chinese firms has invested heavily in overseas soccer teams, media rights, and player agencies. China has even managed to attract star players through multi-million dollar deals.

“With the European Cup everyone’s betting on soccer, but also over the last couple of years China’s soccer market has developed rapidly,” said Hu Naijun, an assistant professor at Beijing’s University of Science and Technology. “Big investments and star names create a real lure.”

A Chinese man named Bao has organized a big online gambling group that holds a pot of 5 million yuan ($750k), attracting dozens of people for each match.

“In one night there will be millions placed in bets,” said Bao. “For the final, we’ll probably go to Macau or Hong Kong and spend the whole week in the presidential suite.”

It’s clear that China’s passion over online soccer betting won’t subside any time soon, especially with the Euro Cup down to its final few matches. And the 2016 Olympics in Rio will no doubt bring more Chinese soccer betting action.