Members of an online soccer betting ring have spent more than 10 days in court in south China's Guangdong Province, where 67 are being prosecuted.
One of China's largest online gambling cases has been proceeding in Liwan District People's Procuratorate in Guangzhou city since March 11. Investigators claim the gang illegally opened online casinos and attracted bets valued at 484 billion yuan (77.7 billion U.S. dollars) from March 2008 to April 2013. Most of their illegal earnings were transferred overseas.
Gambling has been outlawed on the Chinese mainland since 1949 when New China was founded. But in recent years, sports events such as the World Cup have proved too tempting for betting fans.
The online betting ring operated via gambling websites including "Huangguan"and "Yongligao" registered outside China. The suspects used overseas websites to lure punters to place bets and took commissions from them.
According to the prosecutors, the ring is run within a circle of friends and relatives like a pyramid selling scheme.
"In many previous cases, we only seized those at the lowest level. This time, the suspects come from all tiers," said Li Fan, prosecutor of the case.
Among the accused are several white collar workers who used to have a decent life, and gradually got dragged into the gambling, Li said.
Suspect Wang used to be a community worker and was a volunteer at Guangzhou Asian Games. He started betting on soccer via telephone during the 2006 World Cup. In 2011, he he joined the gambling ring where he persuaded other gamblers to lay bets totalling 1.43 million yuan (229 thousand U.S. dollars) in only a year and a half.
"We are trying to recover their illegal earnings, and end their money laundering operation, to make it harder for them to continue their illegal business after they finished their prison terms," Li said. "Otherwise, they can easily rent a new server or just change the names of the websites."
Prosecutors want network operators to set up warnings for visitors to suspected gambling websites to cut the connection between the gamblers and the gambling ring. Financial institutions should assist the police by paying more attention to abnormal money flows.
"Some of the suspects and their families were not aware of that they were committing a serious crime and would face legal punishment," said Wu Yaping, another prosecutor. "Education of the public must be stepped up to prevent such cases."