INTERPOL-Led Operation Busts Thousands of Illegal World Cup Gambling Dens across Asia

An INTERPOL-led operation during the 2018 World Cup invovled thousands of raids being carried out across the Asia-Pacific region and suspects being arrested on illegal gambling charges, the organization said in a Friday press release.

The seventh installment of operation SOGA (short for soccer gambling) was conducted in the period between June 22 and July 16, or over the course of the major football championship. Coordinated by INTERPOL’s Organized and Emerging Crime Directorate and involving local police departments, SOGA VII saw 14,900 raids at what appeared to be illegal gambling dens be carried out. The illegal gambling operations were estimated to have handled more than $1.6 billion worth of bets ahead of and during this year’s World Cup. Raids took place across China, including Macau and Hong Kong, as well as Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.

During the nearly month-long operation, police seized more than 1,000 computers, mobile phones, and other equipment allegedly used for the provision of illegal gambling services as well as more than $1.7 million in cash. INTERPOL said Friday that the equipment seized is being analyzed to help police authorities in future operations and assist current investigations.

Commenting on the international World Cup illegal gambling operation, Chief Superintendent Tat-Shing Man of the Hong Kong Organized Crime and Triad Bureau hailed operation SOGA VII as success and attributed that to the “power of global and regional police cooperation through INTERPOL”. INTERPOL said Friday that 242 arrests were made and $16.8 million worth of betting slips were seized in Hong Kong alone during the operation.

”Clear Shift” from Physical to Online Betting Services

Operation SOGA VII highlighted a clear and significant shift from physical sports betting to online betting. Paul Stanfield, Director of Organized and Emerging Crime at INTERPOL, explained that illegal online sports betting platforms have brought an “international dimension” to the illegal gambling issue.

Such platforms are usually located in jurisdictions with fuzzy and underdeveloped betting regulations, the official went on to say, which presented additional challenges for police during the SOGA VII operation. According to Mr. Stanfield, a coordinated international response would be needed to tackle the problem, particularly given the fact that illegal gambling is rapidly moving from physical premises to the Internet.

Among other things, coordinated police efforts uncovered that regionally popular messaging apps have become a major channel for targeting bettors. During the World Cup, WeChat closed more than 50,000 accounts and 8,000 group chats related to illegal gambling.

INTERPOL said in its Friday statement, that all seven installments of the SOGA operations have resulted in more than 30,000 arrests, the closure of more than 3,700 illegal gambling dens, which were estimated to have handled more than $8 billion worth of bets on football matches, and the seizure of $57 million in cash.

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