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Hong Kong Sports World Hit by Gambling Scandal - 2004-08-16

While doping scandals rock the Olympic games in Greece, police in Hong Kong Saturday busted an underground network of illegal sports gambling. Officers made almost a dozen arrests and seized over 150 athletes, many of them confined to bamboo cages.

The rules were simple, the first fighter to retreat lost.

Most combatants allegedly were pumped full of stimulants and fed an exclusive diet of cooked rice, flies and mosquitoes.

Police say hundreds of dollars in bets were seized at the Far East Friends of Crickets Social Club, which was proudly hosting a tournament of fighting insects from throughout the region.

But as the officers sealed off the street the message could not have been any clearer: Gambling on cricket fights in Hong Kong is illegal.

Senior Inspector Angus Yueng led the operation. "Let me put it this way, cricket fighting, no problem, but when people place bets on the game, that is illegal," he said.

Inspector Yeung says about one 150 of the tiny bugs were seized during the raid.

One-hundred fifteen men were also detained, including one 80-year-old. Police suspect the gambling operation has ties to local organized crime syndicates, known as triads.

Cricket fights in China have been popular since at least the 11th century Song Dynasty and there are still national tournaments and clubs throughout the country.

Hong Kong residents are famously fond of gambling - with the local jockey club taking in billions of dollars worth of bets a year on horse races, a lottery and football betting.

Sunday's raid forced the cricket-fighting club to close its doors. But police say the club can reopen shortly as long as the fights are conducted fairly and without gambling on the side.

Inspector Yeung says crickets are good pets and make beautiful music. But, he says, gambling on cricket fights is unacceptable.