U.S. Fights Online Gambling with Arrests

One of the largest online gambling sites, Bet On Sports, has shut down its U.S.-market operations. The move came a few weeks after its CEO was arrested in Texas on charges that the company violated U.S. gambling laws.

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One of the largest online gambling sites, betonsports.com, has shut down its U.S. market operations. This comes a few weeks after its CEO was arrested in Texas. He and his company are accused of violating U.S. anti-gambling laws.

This prosecution is unusual because the company has never had any operations on U.S. soil.

NPR's Adam Davidson reports.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Bet on Sports, like most online gambling companies, does things with a wink and a nod. The company is headquartered in England. It had huge operations in Costa Rica and Antigua; those are the ones that just shut down. But most of its customers, pretty much everyone knew, have been in the United States.

The U.S. is the world's biggest sports gambling market. Billions of dollars are bet every year. And, says Lawrence Walters, a lawyer and gambling law expert, the flow of money to gambling sites will continue unabated.

Mr. LAWRENCE WALTERS (Attorney): Oh, there are plenty of online sports betting going on. There are many other Web sites on which such bets can be placed, and there are many people in the United States that are placing those bets.

DAVIDSON: It is against U.S. federal law to place a bet over long-distances. You can't pick up a phone in Massachusetts and put it all on red on a roulette table in Las Vegas. But many companies figured they would not violate U.S. law if they were not in the U.S.

So countless gambling sites have opened in the Caribbean and Europe and other places. So far, the U.S. Department of Justice has prosecuted the heads of two of these remote gambling companies, both arrested while visiting the U.S.

The World Trade Organization has already ruled that these U.S. prosecutions violate international trade law, and attorney Walters says they might even be against American law.

Mr. WALTERS: This case raises a lot of unique, unsettled jurisdictional issues that will have to be ironed out and determined by a court, and probably a court of appeal. So I wouldn't discount the online sports betting industry just quite yet.

DAVIDSON: Even if the legal questions are settled, Walters says there's no way to stop online gambling. People enjoy doing it too much, and it's just too easy to set up unblockable Web sites. The Department of Justice, though, says it believes it can stop the online gambling industry from escaping U.S. jurisdiction.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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