Police bust multi-billion online gambling ring

YAMAR investigative unit exposes shekel money laundering scheme on website that hosted illegal card games.

Gambling 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC)
Gambling 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC)
The Tel Aviv branch of the YAMAR investigative unit announced on Wednesday that they had busted a multi-billion shekel, Israel-based international gambling ring. According to police, the case is one of the largest money laundering and illegal gambling investigations ever carried out by Israeli law enforcement. It is expected to deal a serious blow to one of the main sources of revenue for Israeli organized crime over the past few years.
The year-long undercover case known as hagiga b’reshet (web party) has centered around a website called Don- Bet which used word of mouth to bring in members who could bet on a wide range of sporting events and card games. According to police the website brought in at least NIS 6 to 7 billion over the past five years.
The case became public on Wednesday morning, when hundreds of YAMAR detectives, led by Tel Aviv Ch.-Supt. Gadi Eshed, joined by investigators from the tax authority and antifraud task force, carried out dozens of raids at houses, tech support centers and money changing stores across the country. Over the course of the day they arrested 55 people, around half of whom were to be brought for remand extensions Wednesday night.
Police said the suspects face charges of money laundering, running an illegal gambling operation, conspiracy to commit a crime and tax evasion.
During the raids, police said they also seized cars, real estate, and hundreds of bank accounts worth tens of millions of dollars.
More than a simple website, the operation worked with a clear hierarchy of money couriers; mainly taxi drivers, as well as tech support workers, enforcers, shareholders and account managers who operated databases of gamblers. The massive revenues were then laundered in Israel through money changers and real estate.
Eshed said Wednesday that the role of the gambling ring as regards organized crime in Israel was similar to the Trade Bank, which collapsed in 2002 after a former employee embezzled over a quarter billion shekel in fictitious payments, largely to figures in Israel’s “gray market.”
In an attempt to throw off investigators, gamblers would use their credit cards to place bets on sites based outside of Israel, though the headquarters was in the country. The site was only open to people who were invited by fellow gamblers.
On Wednesday, Eshed said the network served as a vital source of revenue for local organized crime families and that he has no doubt the arrests will deal “a painful blow” to their operations.
By Wednesday, donbet.com had splashed a message across its homepage “Dear user, the site is being upgraded. We apologize for the inconvenience, please try again in a few minutes.”