China cracks down on cross-border gambling under the guise of ‘tourism’
Published: Nov 25, 2021 10:33 AM
A criminal suspect (center) involved in cross-border gambling returned to China and surrendered. Photo: courtesy of international cooperation bureau of Jilin provincial public security authority

A criminal suspect (center) involved in cross-border gambling returned to China and surrendered. Photo: courtesy of international cooperation bureau of Jilin provincial public security authority

Northeast China's Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces recently announced progress in cracking down on cross-border gambling, unveiling how criminal groups that run casinos in Primorsky Krai in Russia have recruited brokers and staff, cooperated with Chinese travel agencies, and attracted Chinese citizens to gamble abroad under the guise of "tourism."  

According to China's Ministry of Public Security, after a nine-month investigation the public security organs of Jilin and Heilongjiang have dealt with 10 relevant gambling cases involving casino operators and managers, shareholders in casinos, brokers and travel agencies serving casinos. A total of 18 shell companies and four underground banks have been closed down, and 142 criminal suspects have been arrested.  

The Global Times learned that most of the suspects left and entered China via flights arranged by six travel agencies. One travel agency has been linked directly to casino shareholders and has access to the list of brokers. The travel agency, which has been disqualified, even pulled people into gambling on its own. One member of the travel agency was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and a fine of 500,000 yuan ($78,300). 

Most of the suspects involved in the case are gamblers and regular customers of foreign casinos that are familiar with overseas Chinese casino managers. Some people had the idea of starting their own casinos, and quickly found partners to put it into practice.

Some suspects who have lost their property because of years of gambling were courted by casino managers, and became brokers to recruit Chinese citizens to participate in cross-border gambling.

One of the brokers said in his confession that he once had a decent income and a happy family, but after being introduced by a friend to cross-border gambling, he fell into the trap. He said he knew gambling was awful and that he felt extremely sorry for his wife and children, but he couldn't help himself.  

Wu Siyu, a police officer from the international cooperation bureau of Jilin provincial public security authority, told the media, "Under strong pressure, many major overseas suspects gave themselves up."  

Public security authorities said that criminal groups regularly abandon accounts of funds and change mobile phones in order to avoid investigation, which brings great difficulty to the investigation and evidence collection work. According to the investigation, there were more than 4,400 bank cards involved, 1.6 billion yuan of gambling funds involved, and the gambling participants were scattered in 12 provinces.

Although overseas casinos are legal in some countries and regions, they are not allowed to advertise, attract gamblers or substantially extend into China through the internet, including messaging software and domestic payment platforms, Qu Jiuxin, professor of China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.

Cross-border gambling has led to a huge amount of property flowing abroad, which has seriously affected China's economic security and social stability, Qu said, noting that China has continuously intensified the crackdown operations, which demonstrates a firm determination and forms a powerful deterrent to the investors, shareholders, service personnel and gamblers behind overseas gambling groups.  

At the legal level, China has also increased the penalties for cross-border gambling, experts said.

The amendment to China's Criminal Law adopted in December 2020 increased the punishment for the crime of opening casinos, from three years in prison, detention or surveillance, to five years. Similarly, if the circumstances are serious, the term of imprisonment between three years and 10 years will be increased to five to ten years, Qu said. 

In recent years, the Ministry of Public Security has deployed public security organs across China to work with relevant departments to crack down on cross-border gambling. 

From 2020 to this October, Chinese public security organs had investigated more than 30,000 cross-border gambling cases, arrested more than 160,000 suspects, and shut down more than 5,100 gambling platforms and 3,900 illegal payment platforms and underground banks, effectively curbing the rampant trend of cross-border gambling.