Colombia Busts 11 in Illegal Gambling Ring as Crackdown Continues

Authorities in Colombia are determined to rid the country of as much illegal gambling as possible. The latest crackdown includes the sentencing of 11 people who allegedly were able to keep off the radar for four years.

A property purchased through Illegal lottery sales in Colombia
A property purchased through Illegal lottery sales in Colombia
A property purchased through Illegal lottery sales in Colombia. The country is cracking down on illegal gambling, with another ring falling this week. (Image: Mundo Video)

The 11 defendants stood trial this week for allegedly marketing illegal lotteries and raffle tickets in the municipality of Palestina. This is similar to an operation authorities uncovered this past April that spanned several municipalities.

Of the 11, five are going to jail and another three received house arrest. The remaining three are free; however, they now appear in the system and could face punishment if arrested in the future.

Flying Under the Radar

Judicial police reports show that the organization operated at least since 2018. During that time, they earned an income of around COP$35 million (US$8,000) a week.

The group, whose entrepreneurialism ended amid a series of nine raids, offered illegal lotteries and raffles as part of a larger operation. They periodically met in a designated commercial establishment, where they handed over the winnings to the alleged ringleader.

As a result of their actions, the defendants faced charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and illicit exercise of monopolistic activity for capital gains. Six of them pled guilty to the charges.

The illegal sale of lotteries and raffles in Colombia is a problem that continues in spite of efforts to eradicate it. Last April, the Prosecutor’s Office stopped criminal networks linked to the illegal sale of games of luck and chance.

In that exercise, there were 30 locations offering the illegal products, all run by two organized crime groups. Among them were 14 rural and urban properties, 15 vehicles and one commercial establishment. The properties had a combined value of COP17 billion (US$4.12 million).

Between 2018 and 2022, those two groups used people in vulnerable conditions to market illicit games of luck and chance in several municipalities of Antioquia. For this illegal activity, they allegedly obtained illegal profits that amounted to COP317 billion (US$76.8 million).

Damage to the Legal Market

Because of their illegal nature, that revenue was tax-free. Colombia’s legal gambling industry is strong, but not that strong. Revenue from the legal sector supports social security and public health fund initiatives.

Aware of the presence of the criminal element and its gambling habit, Colombia is increasing its efforts to halt illegal activity. Coljuegos, the country’s gambling regulator, has put a stop to several land-based operations recently, including some in May and June.

In coordination with the police, raids in the first week of June allowed authorities to shut down several operations. These included 55 electronic slot machines, four sports betting shops and a bingo hall with 100 seats.

The operations allegedly earned as much as COP2.65 billion (US$690,000). If found guilty, those involved in these illegal operations will be fined amounts of no less than COP4.8 billion (US$1.2 million), according to Coljuegos. They also face between six and eight years in jail.

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