An operation named "Gambling" and coordinated by Italy's Anti-Mafia Police led to the arrest of 41 individuals and the seizure of cash and assets for more than €2 billion on Wednesday, July 22.
The Italian authorities have also seized 82 online gambling websites and froze the assets of 11 companies based in Malta, Austria, Romania, and Spain. The accusations moved against those arrested include money laundering and the creation of an international scheme aimed at avoiding the country's regulation on betting and gambling.
According to the Magistrate in charge of the preliminary investigation Caterina Catalano, the gambling and betting ring was used by Italy's Mafia-type criminal organization 'Ndrangheta to launder money and keep control of the territory through a network of over 500 betting agencies.
One of the key figures in the operation is 38-year-old founder and CEO of BetUniQ, Mario "Mariolino" Gennaro, a man known for his tight connections with the 'Ndrangheta organization.
Launched in Malta back in 2010 and operating with a legit license issued by the Malta Gaming Authority to its parent company Uniq Group Limited, BetUniQ has allegedly been used for years to launder money for 'Ndrangheta-affiliated businesses.
Initially focused on online gambling, the gambling hub has quickly expanded its business over the past years and opened over 500 gaming points throughout Italy, despite the company not possessing any license to offer gambling or betting services in the country. The authorities believe that Gennaro chose to base his business in Malta as the Island's regulation on gambling allowed him to avoid Italy's strict anti-mafia controls.
Italy's Gambling Industry In Turmoil
BetUniQ, however, is not the only operator affected by the operation, as the list of the companies involved in 'Ndrangheta-related operations includes some more big names in the industry.
As stated by the Italian authorities, the investigation included People's S.R.L and Microgame S.P.A, two well-known operators regularly licensed by the Italian gambling authority.
People's S.R.L, is the company that controls the People's Network, Italy's third-biggest poker network according to PokerScout data, which includes popular skins as People's Poker, Ballas, and BetItaly.
Microgame, on the other hand, is a company owned by private equity funds Texas Pacific Group and Monitor Clipper Partners, and by the company's founder Massimiliano Casella, which operates in the country with over 130 different brands and which claims to handle over 650,000 gaming accounts.
At the time of writing, representatives from BetUniq, People's, and Microgame could not be reached, as the customer support of People's seemed to be inactive.
Here's a full list of the international companies whose assets were frozen by the Italian police on Wednesday:
|UNIQ GROUP LIMITED||Malta|
|UNIQ SHOPPING LIMITED||Malta|
|TEBARAL HOLDING LTD||Malta|
|TEBARAL TRADING LTD||Malta|
|FAST RUN LIMITED||Malta|
|UNIQ GROUP BUCHMACHER Gmbh||Austria|
|BE. UNIQ EST SRL||Romania|
|ZETA GAMING SRL||Romania|
Right after the police operation, a number of Italian poker players took to social media to report not being able to withdraw money from their gaming account due to "technical issues."
Be sure to follow the story on PokerNews as it develops.