HONG KONG: Hong Kong police arrested nine suspected illegal bookmakers and seized HK$3.24 million (US$415,400) worth of betting slips yesterday in a major crackdown on the surge of illegal gambling during the Euro 2004 tournament.
The arrests of five men and four women aged 22 to 53 were made during raids on four housing estates yesterday morning, police said in a statement.
All were arrested for suspected illegal bookmaking, which carries a maximum penalty in Hong Kong of a HK$5 million (US$640,000) fine and seven years' imprisonment.
Along with the betting slips, officers also seized two computers and a stun gun, the statement said.
The Hong Kong government legalised football betting last year in an attempt to smash illegal bookmaking and shore up revenues.
But the time difference between Euro 2004 hosts Portugal and Hong Kong has put the sole legal betting operator, Hong Kong Jockey Club, at a disadvantage when it comes to European matches because its betting outlets are required to close by 11.30 pm local time.
Illegal bookmakers don't face such restrictions.
Jockey Club spokesman Li Tak-nang said that experienced punters wait until close to kick off to place bets after they survey the latest information such as starting line-ups and player injuries. – AP