Illegal Gambling Statistics: Global Data on Unlicensed Gambling

So long as there are legally operating casinos raking in the Benjamins, there will be the not-so-legal operations trying to emulate the successes of the legitimate ones, and earn an untaxed dollar or two. Brace yourself as we dive into the uncharted international waters of illegal gambling.
Published on: 26 February 2021

A Brief History of Legalized Gambling

Technically, all gambling was ‘unlicensed’ going back only a few hundred years or so, depending on the geography and culture. Human beings have always liked to place wagers on events of uncertain outcome – the risk is a great source of joy and entertainment, and the idea of winning a life changing prize is tantalizing and celebrates the uncertainty of life.

Gambling houses were widespread in China as far back as 1000 BC, where the wages would form around the outcome of organized animal fights. The operators would most likely take a cut of the profits, but insofar as the question of ‘legality’ the answer is vague, as the structure of society was in stark difference to today’s.

Playing cards and other tokens symbolic of games used for gambling, such as dominoes and lotto tickets, were abound in Asia and the Middle East as far back as the 10th century, and would have primarily been used for private games. The first known casino, the Ridotto of Venice, began operating in 1638, and would have been legal in the sense that the Doges of the city-state permitted the use and collected taxes.

In the UK, under English common law, gambling was allowed, but began a legal journey towards heavy regulation beginning with an outlawing of essentially all gambling in the early 16th century,

In Western societies, gambling has come under heavy scrutiny by governing Christian powers for moral reasons, and the journey towards legalization in the UK was fluctuating but steadily allowed for more forms, while in the US the journey has been slower, but today many forms are legal.

In many countries around the world online casinos are legal and regulated. This means that you can, for example, play at the best casinos in the UK with confidence that you are not breaking the law and are in safe hands.

Two Sides of the Same Chip

Historically, gambling has been legitimized and legalized in order to generate revenue for the governing societies that house the profitable operations. As new forms of gambling have arisen in the 20th and 21st centuries, most notably sports betting and online casinos, new regulations have had to be drafted to keep up that taxation.

As greed is a well-known sin for a reason, humans have sought to avoid taxation and make as much money as possible where given the chance. Wherever there have been regulations around gambling, there have always been those who have resisted legalization and sought to gamble in operations that allow them to take more of the cut.

That’s why wherever there is legalized gambling, there is illegal gambling. The gambling houses in China undoubtedly saw some gambling activity that didn’t include the house in the profit, and ‘casino’ games would have still operated outside of the Ridotto that didn’t include them in the cut.

Contemporary Illegal Gambling Worldwide

Due to its multifaceted and nebulous nature, underground gambling takes many forms today, and you can find it anywhere that has regulations regarding gambling. Here’s a general look at the many various ways that illegal gambling is found in, often adjacent to the official forms:

  • Illegal casinos
  • Sports betting with unlicensed bookmakers
  • Horse betting with unlicensed bookmakers
  • ’Numbers games’ or illegal lotteries
  • Animal fights
  • Unlicensed poker venues and games

Bear in mind that the legality of these activities depends wholly on the jurisdiction that they are operating under – that is, animal fights are legal in some parts of the world that have no legislation surrounding the issue.

More tricky definitions of legality come into play when determining the difference between a private event and an illegal operation. In the US, state law comes into play just as much as federal, so it’s best to check your own state’s laws. Generally, a private event cannot have a casino award of more than $600, and cannot charge an entrance fee, and taking bets for an event such as a horse race could also be illegal.

With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most eye-opening illegal gambling statistics about the worldwide underground industry.

An Incredible Underground Market

Although a particularly evasive market to pin down, due to the fact of its illegal nature and its many facets, the earnings of the illegal gambling market is said to be $1.7 trillion each year! That’s a lot of people engaging in illegal activity.

The Calabrian Mafia

Here’s a statistic to get you started – the mafia in the Italian province of Calabria, the Ndrangheta, generated a revenue of $1.7 billion on underground gambling in 2013. The crime organization has a firm grip on the region, and an influence on markets – legitimate and illegitimate – worldwide.

Sports Betting

Sports betting is a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to gambling – it’s been around for a long time but with the professionalization of sports and the faster communications of the 20th century it’s only recently boomed. Markets have merged, and the events that people can place a wager on are more and more diverse.

It’s also one of the most unregulated types of gambling due to this. Many places have formalized and legitimized sports betting, but in many jurisdictions the legal industry is still in its infancy, leaving plenty of room for underground sports betting operations to flourish. In 2014, it was estimated that over 80% of sports bets were illegal. Imagine where that number is today?

Illegal Sports Betting in the States

Annually, illegal bets on football games in America comprise of between $60 and $80 billion. Baseball bets also see a lot of the action, between $30 and $40 billion. It’s a huge industry that is begging to be tapped into legitimately, and will soon be, with legalization of sports betting sweeping the nation-state by state.

Gambling as Money Laundering

A lot of illegally earned money is washed clean through both illegal gambling and legally operating gambling institutions. Experts have put a number to it – 10% of the revenue generated from global organized crime, $140 billion, is laundered through illegal gambling operations each year.

Macau casinos have tracked about $202 billion to be laundered through official gambling establishments in the biggest gambling destination in the world. Gambling is illegal in mainland China, so Macau sees an incredible concentration of the country’s high rollers and dubious earners.

California Cockfights

Often the picture of lawlessness and chaos in Hollywood, cockfights can be found on American soil, in suburban Los Angeles. This illegal gambling activity gets around 100 Californians arrested each year, each of them chasing the dream of a potential $15,000 in winnings.

Frequently Asked Questions

With those unlicensed gambling statistics aside, we’ve found many many more, so if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask, like on our many other guides to the gambling world. We’ve collated the best questions for you below, but there are doubtlessly more!

How big is the illegal gambling industry?

The illegal gambling industry is huge - the stakes raised in illegal gambling activities have been estimated to be around $1.7 trillion each year. That is an almost unfathomable amount of money. In comparison, the legal market is estimated to be taking in around $400 billion. That number is growing, with many people taking to licensed online casinos in recent times.

What makes illegal gambling illegal?

Gambling is illegal when a wager falls outside of what is legally defined in whatever jurisdiction is in question. The idea of regulation is to ensure that the money earned through gambling operations is taxed like all other money, and when an operation earns money like that isn’t taxed, it is “under the table” or illegal. All the casinos on our website are legal, check out our best slots sites now!

What types of gambling are illegal?

To name a few - animal fights, betting with unlicensed bookies, illegal casinos and lotteries are all illegal forms of gambling. This is also dependent on where you live, so it’s best to look up your local laws and regulations. If you are in a country where gambling is legal like the UK, then there are lots of great sites to choose from.

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