Cybercrime Division Raids Illegal Online Bookmakers across Turkey
As part of a plan to introduce a state-run sports betting business, the government of Turkey has initiated a crackdown on online gambling. The Istanbul Security Directorate’s Cybercrime Division is conducting a nationwide crackdown on illegal online gambling operators by raiding homes and places of businesses in half of Turkey’s provinces.
So far, the Cybercrime Division has conducted raids in 40 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Over 5,000 domestic police officers have been involved in the raids. At the moment, 394 suspects have been arrested in the dragnet operation.
Most of those alleged to be illegal online gambling operators have been arrested in Istanbul. Police in the country’s largest city say they have arrested 207 people.
According to the Cybercrime Division, they launched their raids after it was learned that many illegal online gaming sites claimed to be businesses in other fields: food, travel, and cosmetics were common fronts for iGaming operators.
$671 Million in Illegal Sports Wagers
Using front companies, the alleged operators conducted $671 million in illegal gambling, mainly by taking illegal sports betting wagers. The wagers were laundered through 4345 Turkish bank accounts, mainly through local financial institutions.
At present, police have confiscated over $94,000 in the crackdown. Turkey has punitive anti-gambling laws, so those arrested face substantial prison sentences and large fines.
Turkey has state-run gaming operators — Milli Piyango for lottery gambling and SportToto for sports betting — but that has not stopped the underground online gaming industry. According to the Security Directorate, Turks gamble more than $11.4 billion a year on banned channels, whether through unauthorized online gaming sites, mobile betting apps, or local bookies.
New Sports Betting Operator
The Cybercrime Division’s raids are part one in Turkey’s attempt to draw more tax revenues from legal sports betting. While Turkey has a contract with Malaysian gaming group Sports Toto to handle its bookmaker operations, the Erdogan government has been searching for a new sports betting supplier that will generate more revenues.
A big part of the update to its sports betting product requires eliminating the competition. While no country can eliminate illegal gambling, various methods help government agencies police black market operations on the Internet: IP block through ISPs, national firewalls, and raids on domestic operators with servers in the country.
The Cybercrime Division’s crackdown is targeting the domestic operators at the moment. The major players in the global sports betting scene are the unlicensed offshore bookmaker sites, though. For Turkey’s anti-online gambling crackdown to work on a grander scale, it will have to set up either a firewall or, more likely, convince Internet service providers to block illegal offshore operators.
How Turkey Will Stop Illegal Sports Betting
Such methods require a lot of resources, willpower on the part of the government, and constant policing. For one, private businesses like ISPs do not like to expend resources to help the government enforce a policy, so the Erdogan government would have to twist the arms of ISP owners to get involved.
Since Turkey’s moving towards an authoritarian government, willpower probably would not be a problem. If Erdogan wants to crack down on illegal gambling operators, it will happen. Constant policing is another matter.
In the age of the VPN, most people with a desktop computer or mobile device can get around firewalls. Also, illegal gaming operators can use proxy servers or launch new gaming portals to get around IP blockers. To successfully implement a block on offshore operators, government agencies like the Cybercrime Division must engage in a constant cat-and-mouse game.
Update: 140 Raids in Istanbul, Ankara
In an update of the previous report, Turkish police have launched raids in several of the country’s major cities. Hurriyet Daily News reports that over 1,000 police have launched 140 raids on gambling establishments in Istanbul, Ankara, and other major Turkish cities.
Hurriyet mentioned that the 100 different alleged cybercrime arrests were made. The detainees were said to have been taken “initially taken to hospital for a health checkup” — a step most westernized police forces would not take.
Turkey also is said to be clamping down on money transactions as part of its 2-year crackdown on illegal online gambling operators. Since the earlier report, it was published that GVC Holdings decided to rid itself of a Turkey-facing subsidiary, due to the crackdown on money transfer services. Sites which operate in legal gray areas were an obstacle to GVC’s takeover of Ladbrokes-Coral in early 2018.