China’s biggest search engine firm, Baidu Inc, is to be investigated by the country’s Internet regulator, after media outlets in China reported that illegal gambling websites had been able to advertise via Baidu’s search engine; with some Baidu employees allegedly profiting from it.
Some of the illegal gambling websites were reported to have featured the names of legitimate land-based Macau casinos and brands, such as “Macau Grand Lisboa”, “Venetian Macao” and “Galaxy”, and the bogusly-named links appeared as commercial messages at the top of Baidu search pages, reported Beijing-based Chinese-language media outlet, Beijing News. The newspaper said its findings were the result of a two-month investigation it had conducted.
In a statement posted on its official website on Monday, the country’s Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, said that it had asked its Beijing branch to investigate the matter and would announce the findings “in due course”.
The regulator also noted in its statement that Baidu and other search engine firms should not provide the means to spread gambling and other “information” about illicit activities.
Casino gambling is illegal within mainland China, but an official welfare lottery and a sports lottery are permitted. Macau is the only place in the People’s Republic of China where casino gambling is allowed.
In its investigation report published on Monday, Beijing News alleged that online gambling sites would register corporate accounts with Baidu through third-party advertising agencies. Those behind the sites would pose as real companies: ones that did not in fact hold accounts with the search engine firm, said the report.
The links to the online gambling sites were posted only after 10pm, and would be removed from Baidu’s search results before 9am the following day, Beijing News reported, citing an informed source from Baidu.
According to a statement from Baidu, cited by Chinese-language media, the firm said it had reported the case to the police and would assist the authorities in their collection of evidence.
GGRAsia sought comment from Macau casino operators that reportedly had their names and brands misused by the illegal online casinos, namely: SJM Holdings Ltd, operator of the genuine land-based Casino Grand Lisboa; Sands China Ltd, operator of the genuine Venetian Macao; and Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd, operator of the genuine Galaxy Macau.
SJM Holdings told us by email on Thursday: “Like other casino operators, we are aware that there are some unauthorised organisations and persons fraudulently using the names of licensed casinos. We have a prominent warning on our website to this effect.”
(Updated at 3.25pm, July 21)
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“Amendment to the gaming law is still a work in progress ... We need to wait for further details, in terms of the finer form that the amendments will take, and there will be additional regulatory measures that will be potentially issued thereafter”
Chief operating officer of Sands China