In a cross-agency effort in the United States, 38 people involved in the sports book industry were indicted on Wednesday on charges of operating illegal sports enterprises, some of which utilized servers based in Costa Rica.
Calling their activity “highly illegal” and “criminal,” four government agencies collaborated in the effort to identify and arrest those involved. They allege that the group booked more than $178 million in wagers over a 32-month period on professional and college sports. Each defendant could face up to 25 years if convicted.
The two targeted enterprises used five web addresses – www.crownsports.com; www.jazzsports.com; www.5dimes.com; www.bigonsports.com; and www.betcris.com – which are routed through computerized wire rooms in Costa Rica.
According to a press release from the district attorney´s office in Queens County, New York, the investigation began in January and included physical surveillance, intelligence information and court-authorized electronic eavesdropping that intercepted hundreds of hours of “incriminating” conversations.
“This operation proves, once again, that crime has no borders and criminals have no boundaries. Unregulated, illegal gambling has a negative impact on society and it´s gratifying to know that our deputies and detectives helped build a solid case against these criminals,” said Florida´s Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti, whose agency collaborated in the effort.
U.S. officials said that gambling Web sites typically store their information on computer servers located in countries outside the United States, such as Costa Rica, and “bounce” their data through various server nodes to evade law enforcement detection through traditional methods. The United States prohibits the processing of bets for online gambling companies.
The recent indictments represent one step in a long line of government action against offshore gambling sites. E ven though the World Trade Organization ruled in 2004 that U.S. restrictions against online gambling violate international trade treaties, U.S. officials continue to go after persons involved.
In a statement released Wednesday, James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Investigations in New York, said, “The seizures made by (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) today destroy the backbone of this criminal organization. We remain committed to working with law enforcement at every level to ensure there is no reward, or profit, for those individuals and organizations who seek to engage in systematic criminal activity as a business model.”
While the United States is trying to protect its interests, the move could have a resounding negative effect on the industry here.
In 2007, Eduardo Agami, president of the Costa Rican Call Centers and Electronic Data Association, estimated that there are approximately 180 sports books in Costa Rica, which employ around 9,000 persons (TT, June 15, 2007).
The full statement from the Queens County District Attorney´s Office can be found here.
For more on this story, see the April 9 print or digital edition of The Tico Times