Inside the Dark World of Online Gambling in China
- Gambling is illegal in most parts of China, but experts say it’s widespread due to copycat websites that “mirror” established ones.
- Betting companies sometimes hire people to “infiltrate” chat groups and encourage people to gamble.
- Insider found 59 mirror sites operated by subsidiaries of British company Bet365.
Tao Huang has been playing online for 8 years.
Although he always used the same online account, the web address he visited changed all the time.
Huang, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is from Guangxi in southern China.
He is one of many people in the country who have visited “mirror” websites: identical clones of betting sites hosted on obscure web addresses to circumvent government blocks on major gambling company URLs.
Huang told Insider via an online translation tool, “The website is blocked in China, but it will still appear in front of you as long as you need it. You don’t need a VPN.”
Gambling is illegal in most parts of China, with the exception of state-owned national lotteries, and recognized gambling sites are blocked for Chinese users.
The “mirror” sites Huang says he played on are hosted by subsidiaries of UK-based gambling company Bet365, one of the world’s largest sports betting sites. Insider verified this using Website Informer and Companies House, the UK’s public company registry.
The sites look exactly the same as the main Bet365 site, but have different IP addresses and URLs, and Huang’s Bet365 client account also worked on them, carrying the money he invested and earned.
According to Ben Lee, managing partner at IGamiX Management and Consulting in Macau, China, government censors eventually identify mirror websites and block them, but other sites are instantly created in their place to stay ahead of the game. on the censors.
“It’s a mole game,” he said.
In June, Insider found 59 mirror sites operated by affiliates of Bet365. It is one of many gambling companies that have mirror sites.
Experts said Insider mirror websites are a “common” practice of betting companies in countries that don’t allow gambling. “It’s very, very common. China has an active presence in online gambling,” Ben Lee said.
Experts told Insider that it is difficult to quantify the size of the market, but the People’s Bank of China has estimated the money from betting-related activities flowing out of China to be around 1 trillion yen (54 billion) in 2019, according to a report by Asian Racing. federated states.
According Article 303 of the Chinese Penal Code, it may be an offense to organize Chinese citizens to participate in gambling activities outside the country. The Chinese government made an amendment in 2021 to its gambling law to strengthen penalties for offshore gambling.
However, David Lee, gambling lawyer at Lin & Partners, says the law “does not explicitly mention whether Chinese law enforcement can take action against gambling operators outside of China”.
“It is debatable whether Chinese law enforcement can prosecute a crime committed outside of China, particularly in a jurisdiction where the offshore gambling activity involved has been duly authorized,” he added.
Bet365 said it does not believe operating in China is illegal and is licensed by “relevant regulatory authorities in various jurisdictions and complies with all applicable laws”.
He told Insider that, “in the opinion of Bet365 and its lawyers”, the tougher sanctions introduced by China last year do not change “the position of an offshore operator offering remote gambling services , without physical presence, people, assets or infrastructure in the jurisdiction.”
He added that he believed: “Chinese law does not extend to the provision of services in China by gambling operators and offshore service providers.”
A virtual army
Huang said it was easy to find a link to a new mirror game site once an old one was blocked: his friends sent him the URL. His account and the money in it remained the same when he moved to a new site.
But “friends” sharing game links on Chinese social media might have a hidden agenda.
According to Ben Lee, one of the ways gambling sites attract customers is by hiring young people to pose as gamblers and “infiltrate” online chat groups on popular platforms. in China like Weibo and WeChat.
They befriend people and claim they have won money from gambling, and encourage other users to visit mirror sites. David Lee claims that this marketing is “the key to success” for online gambling operators.
The workers typically live outside of China, in countries like the Philippines or Cambodia, and are paid around $1,000 a month, Ben Lee said. “They need a small virtual army of young Chinese to do telemarketing,” he added.
The Philippine Department of Justice plans to deport around 40,000 Chinese working in the country for offshore gambling companies, Reuters reported in September. He added that the country’s liberal gaming laws allow these companies to target players in China.
“I have to get my money back”
Huang had his Bet365 account temporarily frozen in May.
In emails seen by Insider, Bet365 asked him to show a “certificate of deposit” proving that the 20,000 yuan funds he deposited into his account came from a bank account in his name, in order to trace access to his account. He was still waiting to receive his funds when Insider last spoke to him in the spring and hasn’t responded to questions since.
Bet365 told Insider it was unable to discuss individual player accounts. The spokesperson added that the company is licensed and regulated in Gibraltar and under Gibraltar regulations clients may be required to submit documentary evidence to verify their identity or source of funds.
“The most terrible thing is that I still have 260,000 yuan ($37,000) in my account. That’s all my savings.” The insider could not verify the amount to which Huang said he lost access.
Gamblers like Huang believe they have little or no way to get legal help if they lose money, as gambling is illegal in China, with the risk of jail time.
“I hope regulators can protect players like me,” he said, adding that he thought it would be difficult to get his money back.
When Insider spoke to Huang, he hinted that he wanted to quit gambling and showed Insider an email he had sent to a gambling addiction charity for help.
“The game is truly abominable,” he said. “I have to get my money back.”