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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
China border casino crackdown
Casino worker in Macau (file photo)
Gambling is legal in the Chinese territory of Macau
More than 100 casinos along China's borders have been forced to close thanks to a major crackdown on their operations, Chinese state media says.

Intensive police work and co-operation with neighbouring countries have seen border casinos fall from 149 in 2005 to 28 now, the China Daily paper reports.

Officials said they feared the casinos were being used to embezzle government funds or illegal business earnings.

Gambling in mainland China is illegal, but is a way of life for many Chinese.

Gone underground?

The China Daily said only 28 casinos were now operating along China's borders - in Russia, Burma and Vietnam.

This was down from 149, mostly illegal casinos, in 2005.

Mahjong players (file photo)
Mah-jong is a popular game to gamble on

"We expect the number will continue to drop this year," Zhang Jun, an official involved in the crackdown, was quoted as saying.

He said foreign cities had helped in the crackdown by banning Chinese citizens from entering their casinos, forcing the operations to close down.

It is thought such casinos are being used as "prime channels for capital flight as players gamble away embezzled government funds or illegal business earnings," the newspaper reports.

Experts fear that many casinos have gone underground but will resurface later once the crackdown eases, the paper adds.

The Communist Party banned gambling when it took over in 1949, branding it a "paramount evil".

But gambling has resurfaced in various forms as the country's economy has opened up.

Many Chinese travel overseas to gamble in casinos and at racetracks, although betting on everything from mah-jong games to cock fights is also prevalent at home.

Gambling is legal in the tiny territory of Macau - which returned to Chinese rule in 1999 - but is heavily monitored.

The government said there were more than 380,000 gambling cases across the country last year, involving 1.25 million gamblers and 4.8bn yuan ($620m).

An estimated 800bn yuan ($104bn) was spent on underground or overseas gambling last year, 10 times the amount spent on state-run lotteries, the China Centre for Lottery Studies at Beijing University said.

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