Thursday, June 19, 2014, 09:13
Odds are, they're betting on FIFA

Odds are, they're betting on FIFA

Fuleco, the official mascot of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, is displayed at an automobile showroom in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. The World Cup has spurred China's soccer gambling sector, with game-related sales hitting a record high. (Photo / China Daily)

China's national soccer team didn't make it to the World Cup finals, but that hasn't stopped the country's soccer fans from placing record bets on the outcome of the event.

According to the National Sports Lottery Center, the industry regulator, more than 150 million yuan ($24 million) in sales were recorded on June 12, the tournament's opening day.

And in the first five days of the event, nationwide match-betting ticket sales reached 748 million yuan, up 482 percent from last year, while regular lottery sales only went up by 1.54 percent over the same period.

Sales for Taobao's lottery service soared, too. More than 4 million bets were placed via Taobao's online platform on the opening day. Within three days, the number of betters had surged to 6 million.

The FIFA World Cup is the first major sports event to be held since online sports betting was legalized, said Li Zichuan, an analyst from Enfodesk, a consultancy. Ticket sales companies and agencies launched many promotional activities to stimulate business. Taobao, for instance, said it would pay up to 100 yuan to each gambler who fails to win the targeted amount.

Shenzhen-based 500.com, one of the biggest and most influential online lottery agencies, has promised a prize of 100 million yuan to anyone who correctly forecasts the outcomes for all 63 World Cup matches.

Those incentives have galvanized gamblers. Zhang Bin, a 28-year-old technician, put 1,000 yuan into his betting account to play the World Cup games. "It's easy to see more people you know who have pitched into the betting wave," he said.

"It only took me a couple of minutes to place a bet and it offers similar odds as European betting companies" such as Ladbrokes Plc, he said. "It's more convenient compared with last time the event was held."

Chinese lottery or match-betting punters can easily buy tickets through hundreds of websites, including popular names such as Taobao.com and qq.com. But only two sites-500.com and sporttery.cn-may sell online lotteries or betting tickets with legal licences issued by the Ministry of Finance. 500.com was the first listed lottery company on the Chinese mainland and the third Chinese dotcom to go public in the United States last November.

"We can confirm business growth during the World Cup games, but we're not allowed to disclose further figures," said Yan Dong of the lottery company's marketing department, referring to the disclosure requirements it's subject to as a listed company.

"Most websites, except those two, claimed they had signed underwriting agreements with provincial-level lottery centers, which are also authorized by the General Administration of Sport," said Wang Shaorui, a lottery editor with more than 10 years' experience in zucai310.com.

"So it's difficult to tell whether their online operations are against the regulations or not," he told China Daily. "To me, they are more likely working on the edge of risk."