Vietnamese police broke up an online football gambling ring worth around $26 million, arresting four people as authorities look to stop black market betting that surges during sporting events like the ongoing World Cup.
Gambling is illegal in Vietnam apart from the state-run lottery and a few casinos which are only open to foreigners.
But the law is widely flouted, especially during top-tier sports competitions when many punters head online or to illegal gambling dens to try their luck.
The four people were arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday, according to a report published the same day in the police’s official Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper. Several others were also summoned for questioning.
The suspects allegedly admitted to operating transactions through a website hosted in the Philippines.
“Since early 2017, the total transactions of the gambling ring have been worth more than 600 billion dong ($26 million)”, state-run Vietnam Television reported, adding that thousands of people across Vietnam had used its services.
Under Vietnam’s criminal code, anyone participating in gambling or organizing gambling could face up to 10 years in jail.
The government has moved to ease restrictions, introducing a pilot program in 2017 that would allow wagers on a limited number of international football matches and adopting a law earlier this month that permits state-sanctioned betting.
But the illegal market remains dominant as the small amount allowed for betting — $44 per match — is deemed too miniscule by passionate punters.
Authorities around the region are stepping up scrutiny of sports betting as the 2018 World Cup in Russia leads to a spike in online bets.
Thailand arrested more than 2,500 suspected gamblers from June 14 to June 20 as part of a sweeping crackdown, according to deputy national police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen.
Most of those arrested will face suspended sentences and a small fine, police said.
In neighboring Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen told listeners in a speech broadcast live on his Facebook page this week not to bet on the tournament because “the ball is round” and unpredictable.