On Thursday, Chinese authorities reported that they had shut down an online gambling ring worth more than $1.5 billion. The dark web gambling ring, which made its fortunes by facilitating bets on the World Cup, only accepted payments in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Etherum. The South China Morning Post reports that this was the first major Chinese gambling ring to make use of digital currencies.
Law enforcement from the Guangdong province said that during its eight months of operation, the site drew approximately 330,000 users from multiple different countries. The police also report that the site employed more than 8,000 operators who would earn commissions for recruiting new members into what is being described as a pyramid scheme. Chinese authorities said that the syndicate’s ringleaders took advantage of China’s lax rules governing cryptocurrencies to make “huge profits.”
While the aforementioned incident is China’s largest example of World Cup gambling, it is far from the only one. Chinese law enforcement have embarked on a campaign meant to root out the various gambling rings that have risen during the World Cup. Law enforcement from the Guangdong province reported that they have arrested 540 suspects and frozen 260 million yuan in cases related to illegal gambling on the World Cup. However, they say that the recently busted crypto ring is the largest of such operations to date.
In addition to cracking down on illegal activities fostered by cryptocurrencies, China is also taking a stricter stance toward digital currencies in general. In September of last year, the government shut down Chinese cryptocurrency exchanges and banned initial coin offerings. The government cited concerns that cryptocurrencies were unregulated and could be a destabilizing influence on the Chinese economy. Those efforts appear to have been somewhat successful as the Chinese central bank has reported that trading between yuan and Bitcoin now accounts for less than one percent of the world’s Bitcoin trades.
Despite the currency’s reputation for illegal dealings, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have plenty of legitimate uses whether as a simple hobby or as a means of buying a brand new Lamborghini. Bitcoin has had a bit of a troubled year so far, but the technology behind it will likely remain even if the currency itself eventually dies out.