March 21, 1998 in Nation/World

Gambling Raid Hits Bookies Shifting Bets To Costa Rica

Associated Press

Forty-four alleged bookmakers were arrested Friday on charges they filtered billions of dollars in illegal bets to Costa Rica to lessen the risk of a big loss in the United States.

Prosecutors say the bookies used the Central American country as a “layoff room” to spread losses in the event of a big payout.

“We believe this Costa Rican venue is the largest layoff venue in the world,” state Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco said, calculating that it took up to $5 billion in bets annually from the United States.

Bookies who receive too many bets for one team in a single game run the risk of a big loss should that team prevail. Laying off some of the bets reduces the chance of bookies getting hit with severe losses. International sports betting is illegal in Costa Rica.

Bookies laying off bets in foreign countries is a growing trend under investigation by authorities. Police on Long Island recently shut down a $26 million sports betting wire room that was laying off bets to Aruba.

“We’re concerned there has been a recent trend to shift these layoffs to offshore sites,” said Joseph Mahoney, a spokesman for Vacco.

If convicted, each suspect faces up to four years in prison for promoting gambling and possession of gambling instruments.

Based on information gathered by New York investigators, related arrests were also made Thursday and Friday in New Jersey, California, Indiana, Oregon and Iowa.

“This blitz against sports bookies was strategically timed to throw a wrench into one of the most lucrative periods for wire room operators - the so-called Sweet 16 round of the NCAA basketball tournament,” Vacco said.

Bets were being placed by adults, college students and even high school students.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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