Italian Crackdown on Illegal Gambling Targets Crime Syndicates 

Posted on: March 14, 2021, 03:25h. 

Last updated on: March 14, 2021, 04:11h.

Italian authorities have seized more than $95.8 million USD in a crackdown on illegal gambling linked to organized crime, according to published accounts this month.

Online gambling
A person using a laptop places bets online in this illustration. Italian authorities have launched an investigation into illegal online gambling. (Image: South EU Summit)

In an investigation dubbed Operation Double Game, restriction orders have been placed against 23 people tied to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra. This is in addition to the millions of dollars that authorities have confiscated, according to journalist Alessandro Ford. The story is on the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project website.

Of the 23 people facing restrictions, 12 are in pre-trial detention in prison, two are undergoing house arrest, and nine are prohibited from participating in commercial activity, according to ANSA, an Italian news service. The suspects are accused of “abusive gambling and betting, tax evasion, aggravated fraud” and more, the OCCRP reported.

Overall, the investigation is targeting 336 people in a probe ranging from Sicily to Malta.

Mafia Money Laundered in Europe 

The investigation is focusing on the Santapaola-Ercolano Mafia faction in Catania, a province in eastern Sicily. According to the OCCRP, this “criminal consortium” is operating, a sports betting website. 

The site is not authorized to operate in Italy, but is active on servers in Malta, a small European Union nation in the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa. The betting site has been under intense media scrutiny recently, including a March 13 news story by reporter Will Nicoll on the Forbes website. 

People placing bets on the gambling site in Italy were encouraged to use cash instead of other payment forms, such as credit cards, the OCCRP reported. 

Underworld syndicates took the cash collected this way and laundered it by buying buildings and companies in Italy, Germany, and Poland, according to published reports.

The OCCRP reported that this is a “common modus operandi” for Italian Mafia operators.

Sergio Nazzaro, a journalist and adviser to the Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission, told the OCCRP that this corrupt network has an extensive reach.

We see money moving also in Poland and Germany, so maybe this criminal infiltration is no longer just a problem for Malta, but for all of Europe,” Nazzaro said.

This is one of several investigations in recent years into illegal online gambling networks.

The syndicates investigated over the past few years include the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Neapolitan Camorra, and the Pugliese Sacra Corona Unita. Romanian and Chinese crime organizations also have been suspected of online gambling violations, the OCCRP reported

Maxi-Trial Underway in Italy

The ‘Ndrangheta has been in the media spotlight this year with a massive trial underway in Italy involving 355 criminal suspects.

The defendants are accused of murder, drug trafficking, loan sharking, and additional crimes. Public officials and law enforcement authorities are among the defendants. The trial is expected to last two years.

This “maxi-trial” is taking place in a call center converted into a courtroom in Calabria, a region in the toe of Italy’s boot. Calabria is considered the ’Ndrangheta’s home territory. 

The ’Ndrangheta is thought to control 80 percent of the European cocaine supply. The crime syndicate’s involvement in vice rackets also has included illegal gambling. In 2015, authorities conducted a sting targeting 1,500 ‘Ndrangheta betting shops and 82 online gambling sites, the Daily Mail reported.