Residents of New Jersey who want to head to OddsShark.com these days are met with the words “ACCESS DENIED” and “You are not authorized to access this page.”
What happened? The New Jersey Deputy Attorney General’s office happened.
Last week, Deputy Attorney General Anthony Strangia sent the sports betting site a letter informing them of his action.
“The Division has accessed your website located at www.oddsshark.com and found that, alongside promotional links to authorized New Jersey online gaming and sports betting websites, your website also promotes [at least three offshore sites]which offer unauthorized internet gaming and sports betting to New Jersey residents,” Strangia wrote to OddsShark executive Kostakis Konstantinou at his Gibraltar address.
“By copy of this letter, the Division is instructing all New Jersey casinos and internet gaming providers that they must cease doing all business with OddsShark.com, regardless of whether the platforms are promoting their New Jersey activity or activity in other jurisdictions.
“In addition, you may be violating the criminal laws of the state of New Jersey [regarding racketeering and promoting illegal gambling].
“We request that you immediately remove any online gaming links that are not authorized under federal law or under the law of any state. The State of New Jersey reserves the right to pursue appropriate civil or criminal sanctions against you if you fail to take the requested actions.”
A shutdown four years in the making
On June 14, 2015, state Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck issued a formal Advisory Bulletin regarding “Internet Gaming Affiliates/Marketing on Behalf of Illegal Online Gaming Sites.”
This was three years to the day before Monmouth Park and Borgata launched the legal sports betting era in New Jersey, but almost 18 months after the state had legalized online casino gaming, including poker.
“In some instances, certain affiliates promote and market on behalf of both illegal and legal online gaming sites,” Rebuck wrote. “It is clear that those illegal online gaming sites who accept wagers from players in New Jersey pose a significant threat to the regulation of lawful gaming.”
Rebuck noted that legal operators undergo “a thorough investigation regarding their business history, the functionality of their system, and the good character, honesty, integrity, and financial stability of their executive management team and principal owners.”
Legal operators also must have controls in place against money laundering, fraud, collusion, underage gambling. Illegal operators may have few, if any, of those safeguards.
The DGE sent letters to a number of affiliates, Rebuck noted, in April 2014 with a reference to possible violation of two criminal laws. But this bulletin a year later was designed to clarify some issues.
Can scofflaws be redeemed?
The first law targeted affiliates that continued to market illegal offshore sites after legal online casino gambling began in November 2013.
Could they still get back into the DGE’s good graces? Rebuck said that “after careful consideration of the various legal and policy issues involved,” his agency will not take action against such sites if affiliates completely ceased any promotion or marketing of illegal sites by November 2015.
The second issue related to those affiliates who promoted or marketed illegal sites after Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA).
While the DGE had put its foot down against any online gaming operators and principal owners who failed to toe the line in the post-UIGEA era, the agency reviewed whether the same should apply to affiliates.
Rebuck wrote that there is a difference between those entities and affiliates.
“Many affiliates certainly assisted online gaming operators in identifying and driving United States players to online gambling sites after the passage of UIGEA and received compensation from online operators for their services,” Rebuck wrote. “However, the fact is that affiliates did not actually consummate the gaming transaction or process the payment of such activity.
“Some may say this is a distinction without a difference. The Division disagrees.”
Rebuck explained that in that post-2006 era, while it was obvious that continuing to operate such sites was in violation of U.S. law, “there was clearly some legitimate uncertainty as to whether the actions of an affiliate promoting or marketing to an illegal gambling site was, in and of itself, an illegal act.”
So the bottom line was that whether post-UIGEA, post-legalization of online casino gaming, or both, affiliates had five months back in 2015 to clean up their acts.
Time to take a stand
Fast forward to 2019, and New Jersey regulators and law enforcement figures have had enough. With last year’s rolling out of legal sports betting in New Jersey, the stakes clearly have been raised.
Anyone who knows Director Rebuck knows that he takes “dealing with the devil” — offshore gambling sites — personally. Same goes for those in the sports media who cluelessly tout illegal odds.
OddsShark might be the first big fish caught in the netting. But it isn’t likely to be the last.
Photo by Shutterstock.com
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