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Internet firms lock horns over sports lotteries

2014-06-25 11:05 China Daily Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Sports lottery sales have taken off with the ongoing World Cup, and China's Internet titans are battling for a piece of that action as each seeks to boost its respective share of the mobile payments market.

QQ Lottery, a vertical lottery sales channel under QQ, Tencent Holdings Ltd's popular instant messaging service, recently announced that it has temporarily blocked Alipay, the e-payment arm of rival Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, a move that stops QQ users from using Alipay to top up their betting accounts on QQ.

The Shenzhen-based Tencent, which may soon lose its title as China's largest Internet company by capitalization as Alibaba heads to what could be a record initial public offering in August, said in a statement to China Daily on Tuesday that it takes a long time for Alipay to transfer money to people's accounts, so it has decided to block Alipay temporarily for the sake of users' experience.

"We are in talks with Alipay ... on this issue," the statement said. It also mentioned that users can use Tenpay, Tencent's own e-payment tool, and WeChat, the company's dominant mobile messaging app, to top up their betting accounts.

Alipay has, however, refuted Tencent's claim of its services "endangering users' experience". The press office of Alipay, China's leading third-party payment player, declined to make any further comment.

Though Tencent said that QQ lottery will reopen its access to Alipay as soon as the bug gets fixed, insiders said that it is unlikely that there are malfunctions with a well-established payment tool such as Alipay. The situation basically reflects the tension between Alibaba and Tencent in terms of their competition in lottery sales and mobile payment, said analysts.

Li Zichuan, an analyst with the Beijing-based Internet consultancy Analysys International, said that the online lottery market is a "deep sea" in China and it is important for players to act to boost their sales during peak sales seasons, such as the World Cup.

"Alibaba's Taobao marketplace is the largest player in terms of selling online lottery tickets in China, but Tencent has clearly made a lot of effort to sell lottery tickets through mobile devices," said Li.

Li added that Alibaba has its unique advantage by owning China's largest customer-to-customer online platform Taobao, but Tencent has integrated lottery sales functions on many of its smartphone apps, including messaging app WeChat.

According to Analysys International, Taobao Lottery, the leading player, had 11.3 percent of China's online lottery market in the first quarter. Tencent accounted for 4.5 percent, becoming the fourth-largest player in online lottery sales in the same quarter.

Online lotteries accounted for roughly 10 percent of the total lottery sales market in China, said Li, adding that online lotteries usually take more than 30 percent of overall lottery sales in developed countries.

Tencent also wants a bigger market in mobile payments, said Lu Jingyu, who covers the mobile Internet sector at iResearch Consulting Group.

Mobile payments are seen as a critical component for the monetization and ecosystem building for both Alibaba and Tencent. "Alipay enjoys a dominant position in mobile payments as Alibaba builds its empire upon e-commerce, and people are used to spending money in its system," Lu said.

"However, Tencent has made a tremendous effort to develop consumers' habit of spending money in its system, including encouraging people to place their bets and pay for their sports lottery through WeChat," she said.

In the updated version of WeChat, which was released on Monday, Tencent added many new payment features. The "my wallet" feature allows people to transfer money to other people's accounts, and it also allows people to deposit some cash into their individual WeChat accounts, which means WeChat's wallet is getting increasingly similar to Alipay Wallet, the app of Alipay.

"It would not take a genius to find out Tencent's ambition in mobile payment," said Lu.

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