Turkey’s new gambling crackdown adds cryptocurrency, QR codes


turkey-online-gambling-crackdown-cryptocurrency-qr-codesTurkey is ramping up its anti-online gambling efforts, with a new focus on individuals funding gambling activity via emerging technologies.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has introduced legislation to grant the nation’s Information Technologies and Communication Authority (BTK) the authority to block access to internationally licensed sports betting sites without first obtaining an order from the chief public prosecutor.

The only legal sports betting option available to Turkey’s gamblers is the local Iddaa-SporToto business, for which a consortium including Scientific Games was hired to provide services one year ago. All other online gambling is strictly forbidden, although the government’s efforts to deter such activity have proven only partially effective.

In January, Turkey’s Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) launched a probe into reports that certain banks and electronic payment processors were facilitating illegal gambling. State-run media quoted MASAK officials saying gambling operators were paying unconnected individuals for access to their bank accounts to funnel money on and off gambling sites.

In 2017, MASAK claimed that gambling operators were employing taxi drivers to make daily collections from such accounts. The government vowed to tightly monitor security cameras at banks and ATMs to crack down on such activity. Mobile money transfers were also placed under close watch after reports suggested gambling accounted for 10% of all online commerce in Turkey.

MASAK has now reportedly trained its critical eye on newer technologies. Late last month, MASAK chairman Hayrettin Kurt told state-run media that the watchdog was increasingly interested in alternative payment methods, such as the use of QR codes and cryptocurrencies, and MASAK had “created very serious actions plans” to deal with these new (alleged) threats to law and order.

Kurt also warned Turkey’s gamblers who believe “we are playing [on unauthorized sites] but the state cannot find us.” Kurt said “the state is following those who are playing” and Turkish courts were doling out fines of up to TRY43k (US$7,100) for individual gamblers caught in the act. A television public awareness campaign is in the works “so that those who mediate this crime would reveal their dirty faces.”

Unauthorized land-based gambling has also come under the government’s thumb. In February, the Ministry of Internal Affairs unleashed nearly 68k officers across 81 provinces, resulting in the detention of over 1,100 individuals and fines issued to around 2,200 gamblers.