SHANGHAI (AFP) – At Xia Lugen’s run-down, smoky betting shop in downtown Shanghai, hordes of young men cluster around banks of computers, as betting slips and a huge World Cup chart adorn the walls and a projector beams matches onto a makeshift screen.
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China may not have a team at the World Cup in Russia but this has not dampened the enthusiasm of the country’s gamblers, with bets in the first three weeks already outstripping the whole of the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Energetic betting in these technically illegal, but officially sanctioned shops reflects the prevailing attitude towards sports, which are seen as a chance to make money as much as a spectacle to be enjoyed.
Before the first knockout game between France and Argentina, punters – known as caimin, or “lottery citizens”, in Chinese – queued up to place large bets.
Gao Liushun, 55, had previously lost a bundle on Argentina, so doubled down on an Argentinian win because “I need to win back what I lost, right?”
He lost 1,000 yuan ($150) after France’s thrilling 4-3 victory, his heaviest loss of the World Cup so far.
Fellow gambler Xia Junmin, a 25-year-old freelancer, lost five times that amount after wagering on a draw.
The World Cup-inspired surge in betting is borne out in the official figures.
China has spent 28.6 billion yuan in football betting in the three weeks up to July 1, dwarfing the less than five billion wagered in the three weeks previous to that, according to figures from the China Sports Lottery Management Centre.
This is more than double the roughly 11.5 billion yuan wagered during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and does not take into account underground betting and syndicated gambling, which is widespread in the country.