Published: January 20, 2024

Black Market Gambling Sites Fertile Ground for Money Laundering, Intelligence Agency Warns

Canada’s financial intelligence unit, FinTRAC, warns that criminals continue to launder dirty money through online gambling platforms, and that unlicensed, black-market sites are by far their method of choice, particularly if the sites are based in jurisdictions with weak anti-money laundering or anti-terrorist financing regimes.

A common method involved using dirty money to purchase prepaid gift cards or vouchers, which can then be used to deposit money into an online gambling account, according to the report. The money can then be withdrawn via wire or e-transfer to a bank account as “winnings.”

It’s common for black-market operators to accept gift cards as a deposit method because US financial institutions are prohibited from processing unlicensed online gambling transactions under federal law (UIGEA). Thus, unlicensed operators must find more creative ways of letting US players fund their accounts.

Organized Crime

Money launderers also frequently use e-wallets and payment service providers to move money between bank accounts and online gambling sites. FinTRAC observed one organized crime group depositing funds to unlicensed offshore gambling sites using e-wallets and withdrawing funds using a wire transfer to financial institutions in Canada.

Online gambling sites also provide a method of layering dirty money. This was often characterized by transactional activity that “appeared circular in nature, where funds were received and sent back to the same gambling sites multiple times,” FinTRAC said. This method also allows launderers to mingle illicit funds with cash from separate sources.

The accounts involved in this type of activity often lacked everyday banking transactions and primarily consisted of transfers to and from online gambling sites, a red flag for money laundering.

In compiling its report, FinTRAC examined suspicious transaction reports related to online gambling between 2016 and 2023. It collated data from other financial intelligence units and international government and nongovernment organizations, and it analyzed information from open sources to enhance and corroborate suspicious trends and patterns.

Advice for Operators

While money laundering is less common in the regulated markets, FinTRAC provided licensed operators with some key indicators to look out for. Red flags for money laundering in both the online and land-based markets include “minimal play.” This is where a player will create the illusion of gambling before a withdrawal.

In sports betting terms, this might involve players betting exclusively on low-risk matches, thereby minimizing losses, FinTRAC said.

The agency also highlighted the practice of “chip-dumping,” where an online poker player purposefully loses his chips to a colluding participant.

This method has been commonly used in conjunction with credit card fraud, where stolen credit cards are used to deposit funds into one gambling account and are transferred to another account through chip-dumping,” FinTRAC said.

Licensed operators should also watch out for customers who request the transfer of winnings to the bank account of another party or to a high-risk jurisdiction, and for customers whose geolocation log-ins aren’t consistent with their registered addresses or log-in history.

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