PtG Article 30.01.2024

Meet the hydras: tracing the illegal gambling operators that sponsor football

If your team is one of the more than 50 European football clubs that have deals with any of the gambling brands owned by BOE, Rapoo, OG Global Access or 978 Tech N.V., it is guilty of promoting illegal gambling. But you might be forgiven for not knowing as the deals are shrouded in secrecy.

On 5 July 2022, Premier League Champions Manchester City appointed 8xBet as its Asian betting partner. The deal came as a surprise to many, since nobody had heard of 8xBet. 

Manchester City’s statement claims that 8xBet was founded in 2018. However, wasn’t registered as a domain until 2020. It is licensed by 978 Tech N.V., a Curaçao company that was incorporated on 23 February 2021. 

These confusing facts are a perfect jumping-off point for unmasking the deliberate obfuscation carried out by a network of different gambling brands and owners. The objective is to stop the identification of their criminal enterprises that are taking bets illegally from Asian markets where gambling is prohibited.

This story takes us down a trail where models pose as gambling brand executives; agencies brokering sponsorship deals feign amnesia about their clients; and we are introduced to a confusing network of gambling brands owned by obscure companies based in the Philippines.

Models pose as betting executives 

We begin the story with the English football club Leicester City and three deals they made with Asian-facing gambling brands in 2022 and 2023. 

In August 2022, the club held a sponsorship signing ceremony at King Power Stadium with JianNan Sports (also known as JNTY). Less than a year later, on 7 April 2023, Kaiyun posted a video detailing a sponsorship agreement with the Midlands club. And on 24 May 2023, OB Sports published a video detailing a partnership with Leicester City.

Now, Play the Game can exclusively reveal that promotional footage for these three deals involved models posing as gambling executives, and were recorded at the same shoot on the same day in August 2022.

The reason? To protect the identities of the real executives because of links to illegal gambling and crime.

Leicester City’s commercial director Dan Barnett shook hands on the JiangNan Sports deal in August 2022 flanked by Leicester legend Emile Heskey and the global development director of JangNan Sports ‘William Robert’.

'William Robert' was a role played by a model. Another model who featured alongside ‘William Robert’ said that she had applied for the job via StarNow, a global online casting platform, and was paid in cash on the day (Play the Game has decided to withhold the names of the models).

Both models can also be seen in the footage from the OB video published in May 2023, as can Emile Heskey and Dan Barnett.

Men shaking hands

A screenshot from the video announcing the partnership between Leicester City and OB Sports shows the club’s commercial director Dan Barnett (left) shaking hands with a model playing the role of an executive from the betting company.

Man with football

A screenshot from the video announcing the partnership between Leicester City and OB Sports shows former Leicester player Emile Heskey and another model.

In the video from April 2023 about the Kaiyun deal, another female model is also featured (screenshot).

When Play the Game approached the agency that represents the ‘Kaiyun’ model, a receptionist said, “I don’t want to get anybody into any trouble”, but they confirmed that their model had also worked with the female model pictured above on the JNTY/JiangNan Sports deal and that the shoots had taken place on the same day.

It would appear that ‘William Robert’ is well-travelled. The name was also used to promote Italian football club Juventus’s deal with OB Sports. But this time, a different model was used. He also promoted Juventus’ deal with JNTY (JiangNan).

Screenshot from OB Sports’ website announcing a partnership with Juventus featuring another model posing as OB Sports’ global development director ‘William Robert’.

This approach has been used before. Dean Hawkes, a Shanghai-based British expat, was used in the role of 'chairman' of Yabo in 'signing ceremonies' with Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Leicester City and 'brand ambassador' Steven Gerrard. Another actor, 'Martin Nowak' played the same role in deals signed by Yabo with AS Monaco and Serie A. 

Agencies refuse to talk about the deals they broker

A fact that is rarely spoken about is that many of the deals between football clubs and gambling brands are brokered by agencies that are often very happy to promote their involvement with deals on their websites and social media.  

Yet a culture of silence exists when questions are asked about the deals, after which promotional footage is often removed. This suggests that the agencies that broker these deals are aware they are dodgy.

One of the most prolific agencies is Hashtage Sport, based in the British Gambling Commission’s home city of Birmingham. Rontigan He, the company’s CEO, worked on the Leicester City deals mentioned above after working six years for Aston Villa where he progressed from Asian market officer to overseas business officer.

Men on plane

In September 2023, Rontigan He travelled on a plane with the Football Association of Wales as part of its ongoing partnership with Hashtage and BOB Sports. Screenshot from X

Hashtage has brokered numerous deals between football clubs and gambling brands such as K8, BOB Sports, OB Sports, Tianbo and more, as detailed in the table below. Many of these brands target Asian countries where gambling is illegal.

Table: Deals between European football and Asian facing gambling brands brokered by Hashtage

Gambling Sponsor






White Label Partner


BOB Sports

Filippo Inzaghi





TGP Europe

The .com version 
of its website is
‘Peninsula Sports’,
and only registers
players from
mainland China,
where gambling
is illegal


Football Association of Wales




Dutch Football Association (KNVB)





Robin van Persie





Hot239 is promoted
via Hot88’s YouTube
channel & features
links to pornography.
Also redirects to
and, which
has collaboration &
Telegram opportunities


Sheffield Wednesday





Yaya Touré &
Wesley Sneijder
are brand
and have done
deals with Hashtage





- deal for 23/24

Wesley Sneijder




Yaya Touré




OB Sports

Leicester City





TGP Europe

OB Sports
stopped taking
bets from the
UK on 7 June


Dimitar Berbatov





Has changed
its branding to
JBO - Just Bet


Croatian Football Association (HNS)







AS Roma






K8 sites features
the Win365 logo. redirects
to https://www.

which redirects to J9, a partner of the international basketball federation (FIBA) accused of not paying winners


Patrice Evra




Rontigan He declined to answer questions from Play the Game about the owners of the gambling brands listed in the table above.

“Unfortunately, we are not dealing with those betting brands anymore, so I am unable to provide the information you need,” he replied to Play the Game’s questions on 16 November 2023.

Apparently, Hashtage does not keep any records that could help answer Play the Game’s questions. Hashtage’s CEO didn’t answer the door either when Play the Game turned up at the company’s registered address after it failed to reply to further questions. The address turned out to be a residential apartment building.

Many companies but only a few ultimate owners

But let's go back to the mysterious case of 8xBet - the recent Asian betting partner of Manchester City.

Another agency, Bear Faced Talent, brokered a deal for ex-England international Teddy Sheringham to become a brand ambassador for 8xBet. For over a year, the agency has refused to answer questions about the deal and has now removed all traces of it from its social media. A recent call resulted in Bear Faced Talent hanging up on Play the Game mid-conversation.

Similarly, another ex-England international, Wayne Rooney, has removed an announcement about his appointment as a Kaiyun brand ambassador from his official website. It is still available here on the internet archive Wayback Machine. Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford, has also declined to answer questions about the deal.

The impression put across by marketing agencies is that Asian betting partners such as 8xBet are new entrants into the market. The reality is that many of these brands are interconnected, and may share the same ultimate owners.

These owners appear familiar with the legend of the hydra. Take out one illegal gambling brand, and two others are ready and waiting to fill its place. Take out one company managing the brands offering illegal gambling, and two others assume its duties.

This is the reason that marketing agencies avoid speaking about these deals. By arranging them, they are guilty of accepting money to facilitate illegal gambling and the laundering of criminal proceeds.

The nature of the hydra

Let’s take a closer look at the hydras of the gambling world. 

Analysis of 8xBet’s source code reveals that it is part of a network of gambling brands that began sponsoring European football post-COVID-19. These brands all have the same website interface and include:

  • (also known as 3339393 and 939360)
  • (betting partner of AS Roma)
  • 6686 (betting partner of Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, VfL Wolfsburg, Lazio, AS Monaco and more)
  • 8868 (which claims to have partnerships with several clubs)
  • 1919 (this is the year of the Chicago White Sox match-fixing scandal)
  •  皇冠 (translates as ‘crown’ or ‘imperial crown’)
  • 1717 (an ‘angel number’)
  •  2121 (betting partner of Torino)

Background research by Play the Game, as well as the customer service telephone numbers on the various websites, indicate that the company operating the above brands is based in the Philippines. There is no trace of a gambling licence on any of the websites mentioned above, including the website of 8xBet. 

Another clue to ownership lies in trademarks. 8xBet has recently attempted to register a trademark in the US via 978 Tech N.V. This company used to hold a gambling sub-licence via Antillephone, one of Curaçao’s four ‘master’ licence holders. Curaçao ‘master’ licence holders are permitted to sub-licence to overseas gambling brands.

Sub-licensees are required to display a clickable seal on their website, which redirects to a validation page that will inform the user if the website is licensed. doesn’t display any such seal, and neither do any of the other gambling brands linked to it.

In September 2022, displayed such a seal, however, it no longer does. Using the link to Antillephone today brings up 43 8xBet and 978Bet websites, none of which feature the seal.  

‘To verify the current status, refresh the originating page and validate the seal by clicking on it again,’ reads an information notice on the validation page. Since none of the 43 websites feature the seal, verifying whether it remains valid is impossible. Perhaps this is the point.

Meet another hydra: BOE United Technology Corporation

Many of the above sites promote themselves by offering pirated, live, football content. This service is also offered by another recent entry into the gambling sponsorship market, Kaiyun, which also offers pornographic content to promote itself.

Again, fans might assume that Kaiyun is a new company, keen to capitalise on Asia’s interest in European football. The reality is that it is part of a network of illegal gambling sites owned by people with criminal connections.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation’s (WIPO) Global Brand Database reveals that Kaiyun is owned by BOE United Technology Corporation, also based in the Philippines. This company owns 26 gambling brands (listed below), many of which are involved in sponsoring European football.

TGP Europe lends a helping hand

Five of BOE’s gambling brands have worked with The Gaming Platform (TGP) Europe to develop UK-facing websites. As we shall see, TGP Europe is the missing link between illegal gambling brands targeting Asian jurisdictions where gambling is prohibited, and organised crime.

Licensed by the British Gambling Commission, TGP Europe doesn’t own a gambling website itself. From its office in a small flat above a betting shop on the Isle of Man, it has ‘white label’ agreements to manage the UK websites for 18 gambling brands, many of which are Asian-facing and are involved in sponsoring football clubs.  

‘White label’ agreements involve a licence holder in a particular jurisdiction (for example Great Britain) operating a website for an overseas gambling brand. In effect, a licence is rented to an overseas gambling brand. Crucially, the launch of a UK-facing website allows that overseas brand to advertise in the licence holder’s market (in this example, Great Britain).

For many Asian-facing brands, it doesn’t matter if the British websites don’t attract a single UK customer. They can now ‘legally’ advertise to the British market. This allows them to sponsor Premier League football clubs and advertise via billboards in their stadiums. These adverts appear in Premier League coverage in Asia and often link not to the UK-facing sites but to those targeting jurisdictions where gambling is illegal.

8xBet uses TGP Europe to advertise itself to Asian football fans via UK football sponsorship and advertising. So does Jiangnan Sports (JNTY), which sponsors Leicester City and Juventus and Kaiyun, which sponsors Chelsea, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest.

JiangNan/JNTY is owned by Rapoo Pro Technology Corporation, which also owns OB Sports and is also headquartered in the Philippines. Its website outlines that it is only available in mainland China, where gambling has been prohibited since 1949. 

There is evidence that JiangNan/JNTY, OB Sports and Rapoo are linked to the 26 gambling brands owned by BOE United Technology. A link to the desktop version of its site features on the JNTY website. Clicking on that link redirects to Kaiyun, owned by BOE.

JiangNan Sports website

JiangNan Sports’ website indicates that it is only available to customers in mainland China, where gambling has been prohibited since 1949 (screenshot).

There is also evidence that these brands are linked to organised crime. OB Sports’ Instagram page redirects to Yabo, a huge illegal gambling operation shut down by Chinese police in 2021. 

Yabo’s UK-facing site was also operated via a TGP Europe ‘white label’ agreement. The site now redirects to BetVision, a Thai-owned site listed as TGP Europe’s main domain on the Gambling Commission’s licence page. TGP’s own website confirms that it doesn’t own BetVision.

A friendly ‘white label’ company that allows betting brands to advertise to Asian customers via European football would certainly be useful to criminals looking to launder money. It appears that TGP Europe could be that company.

Links between gambling brands and crimes in China

Over ten of the gambling brands owned by BOE United Technology today were once owned by a company called Tianyu Technology, which has been linked to criminal activity in China.

In 2021, a police operation uncovered a network of 80,000 agents who were taking bets in China where gambling is illegal. The operation involved 5.6 million customers and generated profits of over 100 billion yuan (15.6 billion US dollars). In the police operation, just under 5,000 people were arrested.

Who was behind this massive gambling operation? Yabo. Tianyu’s licence as a service provider was also cancelled by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) after the company was found to own Yabo. This gambling brand once sponsored Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Italy’s Serie A, the Argentinean FA and more.

Sources have previously confirmed that ‘Macau Junket King’ Alvin Chau’s SunCity Group had an interest in Yabo. Chau is a former underling of the feared 14k triad gangster Wan Kuok-Koi, a.k.a. ‘Broken Tooth’, and was considered the king of Macau gambling until his arrest in November 2021 following the Yabo investigation. He was subsequently convicted for illegal gambling offences in China and jailed for 18 years. 

SunCity also has links to the ownership of TGP Europe, which allowed Yabo and gambling brands owned by BOE and Rapoo to advertise via UK football. After Chau’s arrest, ownership of some Tianyu brands, such as HTH and Leyu, shifted to BOE.

The links between BOE, Kaiyun and Yabo are clear according to a December 2022 press release that is still available via LinkedIn. It reads ‘The diversion effect of Kaiyun Sports will help Yabo Group circumvent the potential restrictions of international antitrust regulations.’

Fun88  has a long history of illegal operations

Another gambling company, Fun88, is also deeply involved in illegal gambling but still sponsors football clubs in the UK. Fun88 is owned by OG Global Access and has sponsored Tottenham Hotspur for ten years, and in June 2023 it concluded a new deal to become the Asian betting partner of Newcastle United

In 2018, authorities in Vietnam dismantled a betting ring that was using Fun88 and two other websites to illegally take bets in Vietnam. In February this year, Fun88 was banned in India for illegally targeting its citizens. Yet redirects to an Indian site when entered into almost any virtual proxy network (VPN), and its Indian site appears to still be operating.

However, Fun88 has been involved in illegal operations that stretch back beyond the ten years of its partnership with Tottenham. On its Asian website, which proudly lists its partnerships with the English football clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, the company’s real name is spelt out in Chinese characters 乐天堂(FUN)​ which translates as ‘Happy Paradise’.

Screenshot with link to FUN88's website

In 2010, Chinese Police arrested Wang Tianbao (汪天宝) for acting as an agent to recruit Chinese customers for a Happy Paradise (again, 乐天堂) gambling ring. News reports outlined that Tianbao was working as an agent to direct people to a Fun88 domain. 

However, police in Jiangsu Province found that despite the arrest of Wang, remittance money continued to flow to him, illustrating that his arrest had no impact on the gambling business’ operations.

It would appear that a corruption of Wang’s name lives on - perhaps as a middle finger raised by criminals at the police and regulators that attempt to shut down illegal gambling operations targeting China. Or perhaps it is a corruption of Tianyu Technology, the former owner of Yabo.

Tianbo Sports’ website indicates that it sponsors several European football clubs across the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A, including Leicester City and Juventus. This links Tianbo to JiangNan, JNTY, 6686, OB Sports and eKings, all of which sponsor both clubs in deals arranged by Hashtage, some of which are promoted via TGP Europe.

Accusations of kidnapping and human trafficking

Sometimes, the mask slips. The ‘Rules’ section on BK8’s UK-facing website - also operated by TGP Europe - indicates that it is owned by Black Hawk Technology, a company based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

Sihanoukville is a notorious hub for online scams and casinos utilised by criminals. People are either lured to the area by false job offers, or are kidnapped and enslaved, with their families forced to pay a ransom to buy their freedom. There are reports that people are tortured if targets are not met.

In April of this year, PAGCOR confirmed that both Tianyu and BOE United Technology had worked with a company called Infiniweb Technology Inc. Infiniweb is understood to have close links with Xionwei Technologies, which is accused of being involved in kidnapping and human trafficking. 

The accusations of kidnapping and human trafficking were outlined in a 120-page report from 2023, submitted to the nineteenth congress of the Republic of the Philippines

But questions remain about whether PAGCOR is fully committed to breaking the links between crime, gambling, and human trafficking. In the update of its license list from 15 January 2024, PAGCOR granted provisional licenses to a number of companies which are also understood to be linked to human trafficking.

Updates by Philippine regulator is the final nail in the coffin

However, following questions from Play the Game, PAGCOR also made other changes when it amended its lists of gambling licenses on 15 January 2024, as the Philippine regulator cancelled the licences for BOE United Technology, OG Global Access, and Rapoo Pro Technology.

All three were previously only regulated as a ‘service provider’ to the gambling industry. As this video explains, this only entitles them to provide services to a company that already holds a gambling licence.

All 26 of BOE United Technology’s gambling brands have the same footer page, which claims that they are licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) Financial Services Commission. Both of these bodies have previously confirmed that none of the 26 BOE United Technology brands are licensed by them. 

As mentioned, Fun88 is owned by OG Global Access and sponsors Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United. Googling ‘Fun88’ in Chinese characters (樂天堂) via a Hong Kong Virtual Private Network (VPN) takes you to either or Both sites mention that they are owned by OG Global Access, which the site claims is licensed by e-Gambling Montenegro. 

However, e-Gambling Montenegro was shut down in 2020 after being found to issue fake licences but the regulator still appears to be operating, as Fun88’s licence claims to be ‘valid’ until October 2023. PAGCOR’s updated list exposes this for the smokescreen it is.

PAGCOR’s updated list is the final nail in the coffin and underlines the scale of the problem. If your team is one of the 50-plus European football clubs that have deals with any of the gambling brands owned by BOE, Rapoo, OG Global Access or 978 Tech N.V., it is guilty of promoting illegal gambling. 

Also guilty are the agencies involved in brokering the deals, the agencies facilitating their ability to advertise via European football, and the companies accepting money for billboard advertising from such brands. As explained, the money taken may also have links to organised crime.

The explosion of underregulated gambling has changed the game

If all of the above sounds incredibly confusing, that’s because it’s supposed to. The aim is to create many opaque business arms so that criminal cash flow cannot be traced, and the true owners behind those businesses cannot be identified.

“The explosion of underregulated online gambling platforms and crypto exchanges has changed the game,” said Jeremy Douglas of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), introducing a new report into casinos, cyber fraud and people trafficking in South East Asia

“Expansion of the illicit economy has required a technology-driven revolution in underground banking to allow for faster anonymized transactions, commingling of funds, and new business opportunities for organized crime. The development of scalable, digitized casino and crypto-based solutions has supercharged the criminal business environment across Southeast Asia,” explains Douglas.

Local regulators cannot keep pace with what has become a global problem and - in some cases - appear actively involved in facilitating this illegal industry. 

Great Britain’s Gambling Commission has denied repeated Freedom of Information requests regarding the ownership of TGP Europe, which is profiting from promoting unlicensed gambling via British sport. It doesn’t operate a gambling website that it owns, yet its licence remains intact.

Antillephone has sublicensed 43 domains owned by 8xBet/978Bet, a company linked to crime and people trafficking. If Curaçao were serious about regulating internet gambling, rather than just licensing it, Antillephone’s ‘Master Licence’ would be suspended tomorrow. Yet it continues to operate.

PAGCOR’s suspension of licences might appear encouraging. But new provisional licences involve companies understood to have connections to criminal operations.  For every company and/or brand that is taken out for offering illegal gambling, another is ready and waiting to take its place. It would appear that the bizarre game of whack-a-mole engineered by criminal gambling operations is set to continue, at least for the time being.

The fact that over 50 European football clubs have partnerships with illegal gambling operations underlines the scale of the problem. Hit by zero spectators during COVID-19, football has allowed itself to become reliant on criminal proceeds.

There is currently a local approach to what has become a global issue. Regulators want the licence fees and taxes that online gambling provides, but this piecemeal approach plays into the hands of criminals. There will always be a cheaper, more relaxed regulator available on a rock somewhere in the sea.

Nobody wants to stop regulated gambling providing much-needed income to national treasuries and to sport. But if sport wants to stop itself being used to promote criminal operations, then an international, specialised, regulator is needed.

Read the series on illegal sports gambling

Man in shadow and football player
PtG Article 27.11.2023
Mapping the territory of football's lucrative pact with illegal sports gambling
Data scout and football player
PtG Article 18.12.2023
Introducing the sports betting data supply chain and the predatory integrity industry
PtG Article 17.01.2024
A match made in heaven: The explosion of betting ads in European football
Football player and data scout
PtG Article 30.01.2024
Meet the hydras: tracing the illegal gambling operators that sponsor football
Football player and data scout
PtG Article 29.02.2024
Welcome to Curaçao: How a Caribbean island facilitates the illegal betting boom
Football player and data scout
PtG Article 11.03.2024
The root of illegal betting: Britain's white label industry that not even the regulator oversees

Find out more about illegal betting at Play the Game 2024