Turkey tightens financial screws on int’l online gambling sites


turkey-online-gambling-crackdownTurkey’s finance minister says he hopes to seize as much money as he can from unauthorized online gambling operators serving Turkish punters.

Over the weekend, local media outlet Milliyet quoted Turkey’s Finance Minister Naci Agbal estimating that annual turnover from Turkish punters playing on internationally licensed online gambling sites is worth around 40b liras (US $11.4b). Agbal (pictured) said the government is taking steps to ensure the government gets its greedy hands on as much of that filthy lucre as possible.

In July, Turkey announced that it was planning a new two-year crackdown on illegal gambling, be it land-based or online. The country’s financial institutions have been enlisted to carry on this fight “night and day” and Agbal said the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) is coordinating detection of illegal activity with local banks.

Local internet service providers are also doing their bit, while local punters were to receive ominous text messages alerting them that the government was watching their online behavior. Agbal warned younger bettors who may be considering online gambling that they face the full confiscation of their betting bankroll, in addition to other penalties (financial and potentially custodial).

The Haberturk newspaper quoted Abgal claiming that illegal betting operators were employing taxi drivers as go-betweens to make daily collections from bank accounts set up to handle betting activity. Agbal claimed that surveillance cameras at banks and ATMs would be able to document individuals who engaged in gambling-related transactions, and that these images would be delivered to the public prosecutor’s office.

Naturally, Agbal claimed that the social component of interdicting online gambling funds outweighed any monetary gain the government might realize. Agbal claimed that “international criminal networks” were behind many online gambling sites, and patriotic citizens would not “knowingly or unwittingly transmit resources that threaten Turkey’s national security.”

Such a reductive Manichaean worldview obviously paints any Turkish bettor who places an online wager with anyone other than the local SporToto betting monopoly as a traitor, although these days, that epithet is generally hurled at anyone who doesn’t have fanboy posters of President Erdogan on their bedroom wall. But we digress…

Despite Turkey’s increasingly strident anti-online gambling stance, numerous international operators continue to serve the market, including Superbahis, to which UK-listed GVC Holdings provides B2B services. Questions over the latest Turkish threat to the Superbahis operations was said to have been one of the sticking points that helped derail GVC’s recent bid to acquire UK rival Ladbrokes Coral Group.

However, speaking to analysts last week after the company’s H1 earnings report, GVC CEO Kenneth Alexander said the Turkish market was “quite a small part of the group now and it’s getting smaller all the time because other markets are growing much faster.” Alexander added that Turkey “will probably never regulate” and the market was “of far less relevance to us now that it was say five years ago.”