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2018-02-26 12:58:52

It’s getting harder and harder to stop gambling in rural China during the Spring Festival holiday, state-owned newspaper People’s Daily commented Monday.

Through January and February, according to the report, law enforcement in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region dispatched more than 25,000 police to investigate gambling, which is illegal but prevalent in China. They uncovered and penalized 2,367 administrative cases and 76 criminal cases, seizing 3.5 million yuan ($550,000).

Gambling typically surges in rural areas during Chinese New Year as migrants return home for the holidays with a year’s worth of savings in tow. But there’s often little to do between family feasts — and local farmers also have their hands free during the winter offseason.

One game that has become popular in several villages is shockingly simple: The dealer picks one of four marked sticks and puts it under a cloth or in a pocket. Players then bet on which one it is. In one village near the city of Baotou, more than 60 players pooled over 200,000 yuan for such games.

The government is determined to eliminate these illicit practices. In February, days before the new year, the Ministry of Public Security called for authorities nationwide to rally forces and clamp down on gambling — both offline and online. Social network WeChat also stressed its zero-tolerance policy for gambling over its platform.

Yet gamblers have also grown more cunning. “Rural gambling often goes underground, and venues change after each game,” police squad leader Zhao Jiannan told People’s Daily. “[Gamblers] take turns as lookouts and use high-tech means of communication.”

Lü Dewen, a researcher on rural governance, told Sixth Tone that law enforcement lack the personnel to investigate rural gambling. He added that prosecuting gambling practices steeped in tradition could be tricky. For example, mahjong is a centuries-old pastime at Chinese family celebrations, he explained, yet high-stakes games should still be regulated.

According to Chinese criminal law, individuals can be fined and jailed for up to three years for organizing gambling activities that involve more than 30 players, or more than three gamblers and either total winnings exceeding 5,000 yuan or total bets exceeding 50,000 yuan.

Lü suggested that government departments should join forces to tackle rural gambling from every angle — for example, culture and sports departments could improve rural recreation options so that bored villagers don’t resort to betting on sticks in pockets or whatever else they’ve got handy.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Men play dominos at a mahjong parlor in Rongcheng County, Hebei province, April 12, 2017. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone)