World Cup ignites online match betting
Updated: 2014-06-23 04:53
By Qiu Bo in Beijing (China Daily Latin America)
Chinese soccer fans watch a game at a lottery shop in East China's Zhejiang province. Provided to China Daily
China's national soccer team didn't make it to the World Cup in Brazil, 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 bets were placed on June 12, the tournament's opening day.
In the first five days of the sports event, nationwide match-betting sales reached 748 million yuan, up 482 percent from last year, while regular lottery sales only rose 1.54 percent over the same period.
By June 18, accumulated match-betting sales in 2014 had surged to 17.6 billion yuan, a 20-percent year-on-year growth. Match-betting sales have already accounted for a quarter of all betting, the center said.
Match-betting sales this year are forecast to reach 39.3 billion yuan by the end of the year, thanks to bets on the world's biggest soccer tournament.
Sales by Taobao's lottery service have also soared. More than 4 million bets were placed via Taobao's online platform on the opening day of the cup. Within three days, the number of bettors had surged to 6 million.
The FIFA World Cup is the first major sports event to be held since online sports betting was legalized in China, said Li Zichuan, an analyst with consultancy Enfodesk.
Ticket sales companies and agencies also launched many promotional activities to stimulate business. Taobao, for instance, said it would pay up to 100 yuan to each gambler who wins less than they bet on a game.
Shenzhen-based 500.com, one of the biggest and most influential online lottery agencies, has promised a prize purse of 100 million yuan to anyone who correctly forecasts the outcome of all 63 World Cup matches.
Those incentives have galvanized gamblers. Zhang Bin, a 28-year-old technician, put 1,000 yuan into his account to bet on World Cup games.
"It only took me a couple of minutes to place a bet and it offers similar odds to European betting companies" such as Ladbrokes Plc, he said. "It's more convenient than 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 — sell online lotteries or betting tickets with licenses issued by the Ministry of Finance two years ago.
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 from the lottery company's marketing department, referring to disclosure requirements 500.com is 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, an editor with more than 10 years' experience at lottery website zucai310.com.
"So it's difficult to tell whether their online operations are against the regulations or not," he said. "To me, they are more likely working on the edge of risk.
"Gamblers had best place bets through reputable platforms in case of losses," he warned.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Finance said in May that it is very difficult to regulate online lottery sales, Xinhua reported.
The spokesman also warned sales agencies should not sell lottery tickets online without approval from the ministry.
Speculation that more online-lottery licenses will be given out before summer has spread widely through the industry since 2013.
In the first five months of this year, authorized agencies sold lottery tickets worth 142.3 billion yuan, up 13.9 percent from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Finance.
In 2013, China's online lottery sales jumped 82.6 percent to 42 billion yuan, the ministry said.
Peng Xitao, head of the lottery department of VODone Ltd, another online lottery company, has predicted sales will surge to at least 100 billion yuan this year.
"Gamblers used to obtain betting information through newspaper but now they use mobile phones to learn and easily place a bet," Wang said.
"The heat of the soccer World Cup in 2014 will help further boost expansion," he said.
With rapid developments in cyber technology, online lottery betting started in China around 2000.
After more than a decade of development, online lottery sales have risen to 13.6 percent of all lottery sales, but still lag far behind the 30-percent share in Western countries, where the online lottery business is mature.
Meng Jing contributed to the story.