An illegal gambling ring holding more than £1.2 million ($1.5 m) in cryptocurrency coins has been busted in China.
The crypto-coin racket was run on the dark web, a hidden corner of the internet not catalogued by search engines or accessible using traditional web browsers.
Police shut down the online gambling platform, which accepted bitcoin and had grown to 330,000 members in the last eight months, during the World Cup.
Authorities arrested six of its key organisers, froze assets of over five million yuan (£570,0000 / $750,000) in cash, and confiscated the virtual currency.
The gambling ring, which was was located in a southern Guangdong province, did not accept so-called privacy coins – digital currencies that provide anonymity – on the platform, just Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.
It is possible to trace back Bitcoins to their original owners, however, it’s unclear whether the police will attempt to find the real identities of those who placed bets.
Although all gambling is technically illegal in China, it is currently permitted in the hundreds of thousands of ‘lottery shops’ in the country.
These are run by China’s Sports Administration, with part of the proceeds ploughed back into sport projects, ranging from financing stadiums to training the next generation of Chinese athletes.
However, the government remains vigilant and dozens of unauthorised ‘lottery ticket’ apps, which enable punters to place a bet with a single click, were closed down in the first week of the World Cup.
China has heavily cracked down on online football gambling during the World Cup, arresting more than 540 suspected of participating in the black market schemes.
Most suspects were ‘associated with more than 20 gangs’, located in China’s southern province of Guangdong.
Their servers, computers, mobile phones and bank cards were confiscated, police told the official Xinhua news agency.
Some 70 mobile apps and websites as well as 250 online chat groups have also been shuttered.