China plans online gambling crackdown

BEIJING, Feb 9 (Reuters) - China plans to crack down on the online gambling industry, including the banks and websites that support it, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement posted on its website.

The campaign will “concentrate on investigating major and important cases of online gambling, knock out domestic and foreign groups that organize online gambling, and severely punish the criminal elements”, the statement said.

The crackdown, to be conducted between February and August, was agreed to by eight government bodies including the Supreme Court, Propaganda bureau, the Central Bank and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Gambling was banned in mainland China after the Communist takeover in 1949, the exceptions being two state lotteries -- one run by the sports ministry to fund the building of facilities.

Underground casinos, overseas conglomerates and illegal syndicates have sprung up to fill the gap.

The statement said it will severly punish those who run underground banks and third-party payment platforms that provide banking services needed for gambling. As in pornography crackdowns, website operators will also be targeted.

The move is the latest in a series of curbs on the country’s relatively free-wheeling online world, one of the few arenas for people from across China to interact in large groups, share information and criticise the government.

A long-running anti-pornography drive has netted many sites with politically sensitive or even simply user-generated content, in what many see as an effort by the Chinese government to reassert control over new media.

Widespread protests in Iran after a contested presidential election alerted Beijing to the potential for protesters and dissidents to use social media to spread their message.

China has banned Google's GOOG.O Youtube since March 2009, when a Tibetan exile film documenting the injuries and death of a Tibetan protestor was published on the video sharing site. The government began blocking Twitter, Flickr and Facebook last summer.

Reporting by Emma-Graham Harrison; Editing by Ken Wills