WeChat is a popular communication and payment app that has over a billion users worldwide. It is especially widely used in China, where it serves as a super app that integrates various functions such as messaging, social media, news, e-commerce and more. However, WeChat has also been involved in some illegal activities, such as facilitating gambling on the World Cup soccer tournament.
In July 2018, WeChat announced that it had deleted 50,000 accounts and 8,000 group chats related to soccer betting during the World Cup so far. The company said that this was due to a Chinese government crackdown that had taken hundreds of sports betting websites offline, which had caused betting activities to migrate to social platforms.
WeChat said that it appealed to its users to watch the World Cup rationally, to appreciate the competitive nature of football and respect the spirit of the game, and keep away from gambling. However, some users ignored this warning and continued to use WeChat as a convenient tool for illegal bookmakers and bettors.
One of the ways that WeChat users engaged in illegal betting was through proxy gambling. This is a method where a third-party places bets on behalf of someone else on foreign sports betting sites or even at live casinos. The proxy would communicate or stream the results in real-time via WeChat, and collect or pay the winnings accordingly.
Another way was through creating group chats or mini-programs on WeChat that offered betting services or tips. These groups or programs would charge fees or commissions for joining or placing bets, and sometimes use fake or rigged information to lure unsuspecting customers.
One of the reasons why some WeChat users resorted to illegal betting was because of China’s prohibition on gambling. The only legal way for mainland Chinese citizens to bet on the World Cup was through the Sports Lottery, which allows players to predict the scores of a series of games. However, some players found this option too boring, restrictive or unprofitable, and sought more exciting or lucrative alternatives.
Another reason was because of the huge popularity and interest in soccer in China. The World Cup is one of the most watched sporting events in the world, and China is no exception. According to the official Sports Lottery website, around $4 billion was wagered during the first two weeks of the World Cup alone in 2018. That was about 300 percent more than at the same stage during the 2014 competition in Brazil. Analysts suggested that the handle for the entire tournament could be roughly $7.5 billion.
The consequences of illegal betting on WeChat were serious for both the users and the company. For the users, they faced legal risks and potential losses. Gambling is illegal in China and carries penalties such as fines, imprisonment or even death. Moreover, illegal betting is often associated with fraud, cheating or violence, which could result in losing money or personal safety.
For WeChat, it faced regulatory risks and reputational damage. WeChat is subject to heavy government censorship and scrutiny in China, and has to comply with two separate policies for its Chinese and international users. By allowing illegal betting activities on its platform, WeChat could jeopardize its license or access in China or other markets. Furthermore, by being involved in such activities, WeChat could tarnish its image as a trusted and responsible service provider.
In conclusion, WeChat was caught up in a network of 50,000 accounts that were closed for illegal bets on the World Cup in 2018. This was a result of a combination of factors such as China’s ban on gambling, WeChat’s dual functionality as a communication and payment app, and China’s passion for soccer. However, this also brought negative consequences for both the users and the company, such as legal risks, financial losses and regulatory challenges.
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