Chinese police have broken up an illegal World Cup gambling ring hosting more than $1.5 billion worth of cryptocurrency bets. It’s the the first major sports betting crime involving digital money in the country.

Police in southern Guangdong province said in an online statement on Thursday that they had apprehended six major suspects of the syndicate, frozen about $750,000 in their bank accounts, and seized more than $1.5 million worth of cryptocurrencies they own. The gambling platform ran on the so-called dark web, which isn’t indexed by traditional search engines.

It only accepted cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin, according to Guangdong police. During the eight months of the gambling platform’s operation, the site attracted 330,000 registered users from numerous countries, and built an army of more than 8,000 agents who earned commissions for recruiting new members through a pyramid scheme, the police said.

The gambling syndicate “used the loophole that virtual currency is not effectively regulated in our country” to make huge profits, said the police statement. Last September, the Chinese government shut down all local crypto exchanges and banned initial coin offerings, a form of crowdsourced fundraising involving cryptocurrencies, amid fears they could create financial instability.

The Chinese central bank announced this week that yuan-bitcoin trading has dropped to less than 1% of the world’s total bitcoin trading, state news agency Xinhua reported. Chinese authorities have foiled a string of gambling syndicates since the start of the World Cup. Read more from…

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