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China cracks online betting ring

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, July 5 (Reuters) Police in China's southwestern province of Sichuan have brought down a 1 billion yuan (125 million dollar) soccer gambling ring, a Chinese newspaper reported on Wednesday, as World Cup betting reaches fever pitch.

Gambling has been illegal in mainland China since the Communists took power in 1949, but the country's absence from the World Cup finals has not prevented many Chinese enjoying a flutter.

An online betting Web site set up in Hong Kong by an ''underground'' company and run in Sichuan's capital Chengdu had over 2000 registered users from across the country, the Beijing News said.

On June 22, Police detained over 20 suspects involved in the syndicate, which, from July 2005, had received bets totalling over 1 billion yuan, the paper said.

Chinese police launched a major crackdown on illicit soccer betting earlier this year, but Web sites offering gambling accounts and mainland phone numbers are readily accessible despite China's estimated 30,000-strong army of online censors.

In 2004, police broke up an online betting syndicate in southeastern Fujian province estimated to have attracted 13.6 billion yuan (1.70 billion dollar) in one month.

REUTERS PDS BST1140

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