Crypto bets via Bitcoin, Ethereum, XRP are fueling illegal gambling in Asia
The acceptance of top cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and XRP on gambling sites are part of the reason why illegal online gambling is rising in Asia, a report from the Asian Racing Federation (ARF) said earlier this week.
Macau’s famed ‘junkets’—businesses that act as middlemen for Chinese high-rollers who make up half the city’s gambling revenue—are said to be using cryptocurrencies to transfer money without detection to offshore the “criminal proceeds” of their illegal betting operations.
Online betting sites—across types like sports, racing, esports, and games—are a highly lucrative industry and process billions of dollars worth of bets each month. Much of these were powered by fiat networks like Skrill and Neteller in the past, but the popularity of cryptocurrencies seems to have onboarded newer entrants.
“International law enforcement and anti-money laundering bodies have highlighted that blockchain and cryptocurrencies facilitate illicit activities including illegal betting and money laundering,” the ARF said in its quarterly bulletin. It added the figures were a seven-fold increase since 2018.
Bitcoin, XRP, and others used
As per the report, Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market cap, is now accepted at over 127 offshore sports betting websites and 284 online casinos. 780 ‘offshore’ websites, furthermore, accept one or more of the five biggest cryptocurrencies, namely Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and XRP.
These sites have been visited by a combined 229 million users since 2018, with 23% of those coming from places in Asia where online betting and gambling remains an illegal or restricted activity, such as India, Thailand, South Korea, China, Australia, and Hong Kong.
Betting sites using cryptocurrency were also found to have employed ‘agents,’ who actively promote the sites through social media networks like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram to Asian users.
The ARF observed and warned that illegal operators were markedly faster to adopt and adapt to new technology, posing a threat to otherwise regulated betting jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, the reports come on the back of similar concerns voiced by the Hong Kong Jockey Club last month. The overseer of the popular horse-racing association said sites accepting cryptocurrencies were not subject to strict regulations, giving rise to suspicious bets and corruption.
“Let’s be clear – the greatest betting integrity threat to racing are jockeys and trainers stopping horses from winning and betting on them to lose on the illegal market,” said the club’s racing integrity and analysis head Tom Chignell at the time.
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