Illegal betting sites spamming through social media in H.K., risking harm to younger audience

Hong Kong

Illegal betting sites have taken to social media to spam potential bettors in Hong Kong, which raises the risk of gambling harm to a younger audience, according to the Asian Racing Federation.

Douglas Robinson and James Porteous of the Hong Kong Jockey Club write that the practice of using social media in Hong Kong has become “ubiquitous” since late 2019. The practice has also been noted in other ARF member jurisdictions, such as South Korea, Singapore, India, Malaysia and Mainland China.

The most popular recruitment site is WhatsApp, but other social media platforms are also being used. The WhatsApp spam is being sent from overseas phone numbers in countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The report argues that given the younger demographic using social media channels, there is a risk of greater gambling harm. At present they have not begun using Tiktok, which the report said would be a game changer, as of the 100 million user population, the majority are in the 18 to 24-year age group.

It said the social media spamming campaigns are highly effective in driving traffic, with one receiving 1.5 million visits from Hong Kong between April 2020 and September 2021.

“These adverts offer instant registration and deposits and specifically contrast their illegal betting product versus the legal betting product by highlighting the fact their websites have features not available in the legal market, such as credit betting, superior odds, many more sports and bet types, and other gambling products unavailable legally,” they wrote.

For example, one illegal betting site offers three sportsbook providers, each with more than 30 different sports, one racing betting provider, five live-dealer baccarat providers, two e-sports betting, 13 digital slots, illegal lottery and one live cock fighting product.

Football betting odds are typically 5 – 10 percent more than the legal market as the operators pay no betting duty. Rebates given to players mean horse racing odds are also more attractive than with legal operators.

The report said that at least 11 separate illegal betting networks that are using social media spam have been identified in Hong Kong, all using similar operating techniques.

These include the use of mirror websites under multiple URLs, privacy protected website domains and the use of third-party software.

There is also the increasing use of crypto currencies, such as Tether.