Underground sports lottery operators are moving to social media amid the closure of numerous betting apps and a rise in traffic due to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Following the start of the event, online sports lottery platforms in China are flourishing. According to a Global Times report, four out of the top 10 free apps in China’s Apple App Store are sports lottery-related apps. The popularity, however, has drawn concerns over the legitimacy and problems of online sports betting and gambling platforms.

Sports lottery groups on WeChat raise concerns (Image Credit: Beijing Youth Daily)

Local media reports suggest that dozens of online sports lottery apps have been shut down this week for no apparent reason—some platforms claim to be upgrading their systems while others attribute their shuttering to the unprecedented number of site visits.

Dozens of sports lottery apps have reportedly suspended their services. (Image Credit Beijing Youth Daily)

Nonetheless, an increasing number of underground lottery operators are moving to social media and getting off the government’s radar, and rising along with it, are fraud, scams, and illegal activities.

Buying lottery tickets through WeChat, QQ or other social media platforms exposes users to even more risks—including data theft and scams. Unlike online platforms that automate the process from payment to cashing-out, players would need to manually add the lottery service operator on social media to transfer the funds via mobile payment apps like WeChat Pay or Alipay. There have been cases where users were defrauded into transferring more funds as “security deposits” when they tried to claim their prizes. There are reportedly WeChat groups that set the minimum bet to be RMB300 or higher and groups that accept as high as RMB 20,000 on a single bet.

Though sports lotteries are not illegal in China, players can be fined if caught betting with anyone other than the Chinese Sports Lottery and China Welfare Lottery—the only two authorized lottery operators in China. In May, the Ministries of Finance and Civil Affairs and the General Sports Administration examined lottery operations to ensure that operators were complying with the rules. According to the Global Times report, the General Administration of Sport also launched its own special lotteries around the same time in anticipation of the expected craze during the World Cup.

In response to the ongoing online sports gambling craze on WeChat messaging app, Tencent said it would continue to fight against all types of online gambling activities.