BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have pledged a "most severe" crackdown on football gambling during the World Cup after authorities broke up what they called the biggest ever online gambling ring in Hong Kong last week.
China's anti-gambling police unit will closely monitor online betting activity during the World Cup, the Ministry of Public Security said, following the joint campaign by Hong Kong and Shenzhen police in China which netted 70 people.
The gambling ring had taken more than HK$100 million in football-related bets, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"We will put the highest priority on smashing football gambling on the internet during the World Cup," ministry spokesman Gu Jian was quoted as saying. "We will continue to exert great pressure and take severe measures against gambling."
Gambling is illegal in mainland China, but highly popular, with an estimated $150 billion in underground betting made every year.
Many Chinese flock to the separately run territory of Macau to gamble, where it is legal.
Despite China's failing to qualify for the World Cup, online gambling is expected to see a huge rise during the tournament.
In 2006 during the World Cup in Germany, Chinese police said that one of nine computers they seized in Beijing was found to have attracted more than 100 million yuan in World Cup bets in a month.
Reporting by Liu Zhen and Ben Blanchard; editing by Jon Bramley