Border casinos hit hard in crackdown

Foreign casinos along Chinese borders have either been forced to shut down or go underground because of crackdowns by police and their collaboration with foreign counterparts.

The number of such casinos has shrunk from 149 – many of them illegal – in 2005 to 28 now. Of those still in business, nine are in the southwestern border area with Myanmar and Vietnam and the remaining along the northern border with Russia, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

„We expect the number will continue to drop this year,“ Zhang Jun, a ministry official in charge of the fight against gambling, told China Daily.

He attributed the casinos‘ demise to good police work and intensified cooperation with counterparts in neighboring countries.

Some foreign cities last year started to ban their casinos from admitting Chinese, forcing many to shut down for lack of customers, Zhang said.

The ministry did not say how many gambling cases were uncovered along the border last year, but said there were a total of 381,000 all over the country, involving 1.25 million gamblers and 4.8 billion yuan (USD 620 million).

Gambling is illegal on the Chinese mainland but as more people travel overseas, the Chinese have become sought-after customers in some border casinos.

It is believed that such casinos have become prime avenues for capital flight as players gamble away embezzled government funds or illegal business earnings.

Despite the crackdown, experts worry that many border casinos have gone underground, and might resurface as soon as vigilance is eased.

The International Herald Leader, a newspaper affiliated to Xinhua News Agency, reported in February that many casinos have moved into international waters beyond national maritime boundaries or turned to the Internet.

Zhang said the ministry has noticed the trend, and will work together with government departments such as the Ministry of Information Industry and the China Banking Regulatory Commission to work out countermeasures.

But Wang Xuehong, head of the China Center for Lottery Studies at Peking University, told China Daily: „The problem cannot be rooted out. The market is there and gambling is part of human nature.“

She said the only way to solve the problem is to legalize gambling and regulate it on the mainland.

The center estimates that 800 billion yuan (USD 104 billion) was bet underground and overseas last year, about 10 times the amount spent on State-run lotteries.