Members of Congress urge DOJ to take measures on “thriving” offshore illegal market; AGA praises call to action

On Wednesday, 28 members of Congress wrote a letter to Merrick Garland, Attorney General of the US Department of Justice, expressing their concern that offshore illegal gambling sites are thrivingthus exposing US players to potential threats. The move has been welcomed by the gaming industrywhich praised the call for investigation and enforcement.

In the letter, the Congress members requested that the DOJ make “a concerted effort” to fight illegal offshore sportsbooks. “These predatory operations expose our constituents to financial and cyber vulnerabilities; do not have protocols to address money laundering, sports integrity, or age restrictions; and severe states’ efforts to capture much-needed tax revenue through legal sports betting channels,” the text reads.

American Gaming Association (AGA) President and CEO Bill Miller has now issued a statement on the Congressional letter, praising the call for actionwhile restating that offshore gambling websites are “a significant threat to consumer protections and the economic benefits legal gaming provides for communities across the country.”

“Today’s letter to Attorney General Garland demonstrates the broad interest in addressing illegal gaming,” Miller said on Wednesday. “We are grateful to Gaming Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Titus and Reschenthaler for their leadership and the Members who joined this call to action. Eradicating these websites, and all forms of illegal gambling, is one of AGA’s top priorities.”

The letter to Attorney General Garland follows an initial outreach by the AGA to the Department of Justice in April. At the time, the trade association urged the DOJ to crack down on illegal, online sportsbooks and casinos, and unregulated “skill game” machines.

“While the challenge of illegal gambling is not new, the brazen and coordinated manner in which it occurs—both online and in communities—has elevated this problem to a level that requires significant federal attention,” Miller wrote in April. “We urge the Department to make it a priority to protect American consumers, crack down on illegal operators, and enforce federal regulations.”

While sports betting was largely illegal for the last several decades, now 35 states and the District of Columbia allow regulated sports wagering. Over 157 million Americans have, or soon will have, access to legal channels to place their bets, with millions more in proximity to a state where they can wager legally.

“As this nascent legal market continues to expand, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the illegal market is thriving and operating unfettered,” Congress members wrote this week. “These offshore operations, including Bovada, MyBookie and BetOnline, have developed sophisticated platforms that are nearly indistinguishable from those of legal providers.”

The call to action comes as internet searches nationwide for offshore sportsbooks increased by almost 40% in 2021, outpacing searches for legal ones, according to some of the latest studies. “These dangerous operators are not relegated to the dark web, but instead are easily accessed through any computer or smartphone,” Wednesday’s letter to the DOJ reads. “This creates confusion for many consumers who may not even know they are wagering illegally.”

Calls for a crackdown have gained momentum as of late. Stakeholders argue illegal sportsbooks do not offer the same responsible gaming functions, secured personal and financial information, and identity verification features that regulated products do. Additionally, illegal operators do not provide checks including time limits, budgets, or self-exclusion; nor do they adhere to the federal or state financial regulations.

“We ask that the Justice Department work with the gaming industry, sports leagues, and other stakeholders to identify the worst actors, investigate and prosecute them, and educate Americans on the dangers associated with illegally wagering on sports,” Congress members said. “We also request that the Department provide a response by September 6, 2022, outlining any additional tools from Congress that can facilitate federal law enforcement action and ensure prosecutorial support is dedicated to disrupting and dismantling these criminal organizations.”

Gaming Caucus Co-Chairs Guy Reschenthaler and Dina Titus

In response to this call for action, AGA’s Bill Miller said the industry looks forward to continuing to work with allies on the Hill, sports leagues and the DOJ to prioritize “robust enforcement” that will protect Americans from the predatory illegal marketplace. “Our country’s worst leaders are clearly and appropriately alarmed by the prevalence of offshore sportsbooks and law enforcement must act to identify the actors, investigate and prosecute them,” he added.

In its April letter, the trade association called for action through three pillars:

  • Continuing to educate consumers on legal gaming options and the dangers associated with illegal operations;
  • Investigating and indicting the largest offshore operations that openly violate federal and state laws;
  • Clarifying that “skill-based” machine manufacturers must comply with Johnson Act registration requirements and anti-money laundering standards and pursuing aggressive enforcement actions against those entities that do not fully comply.

Legal sports betting operators have also expressed concerns in regards to a spike in black market activity as of late. In May, FanDuel Group Chief Executive Amy Howe said that there is “a massive black market” that still exists, “probably to the tune of trillions of dollars.” And earlier this month, DraftKings’ CEO Jason Robins said there remains “a pretty prevalent market,” with some of the biggest illegal bettors “still pushing their action offshore.”

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