Poker travails may have silver lining for expats

The situations involving online poker operations in Costa Rica continue to be confusing, but expats seem to be benefiting.

The exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the colon took a small jump, and several hundred bilingual potential employees are now in the job market.

The dollar exchange rate has been depressed by the flood of money coming into the country. A.M. Costa Rica has reported on large-scale efforts by drug gangs to move U.S. dollars in amounts under $10,000 south to Central and South America. What was not reported was the legitimate cash flowing in from the online poker operations.

The U.S. indictment of key figures in poker operations here also revealed extensive investments in real estate being made with the earnings from the online operations. The flow of money into the country may have been as much as $50 million a year. The poker operations took in $3 billion over the course of the U.S. investigations, agents there said.

Federal agents said that executives of the poker companies tried to circumvent the 5-year-old U.S. regulations that prohibited banks and credit card companies from making payments for overseas gambling.

Money received from U.S. gamblers was disguised as payments to hundreds of non-existent online merchants purporting to sell merchandise such as jewelry and golf balls, federal officials said. Of the billions of dollars in payment transactions that the poker companies tricked U.S. banks into processing, approximately one-third or more of the funds went directly to the poker companies as
revenue through the rake charged to players on
almost every poker hand played online, the officials said.

Among other charges facing the poker company executives is that of money laundering. The indictments also outlined an agreement between a small Utah bank and representatives of the poker companies here to disregard the U.S. prohibition.

The U.S. dollar has been depressed for a year. For the last several months a U.S. dollar could purchase 498.5 colons. The rate had been as high as 582 colons to the U.S. dollar. The situation brought pleas from the sectors of the economy, like tourism and agricultural exporters, that received funds in dollars but had to make payments in colons. Expats on fixed U.S. incomes also expressed unhappiness.

At midday Tuesday, Banco Nacional said a U.S. dollar there could buy 500.5 colons and that 510 colons were required to purchase a U.S. dollar. By nightfall the rates were 502.5 and 512 colons. Banco de Costa Rica lagged at 500 and 510.

At the same time A.M. Costa Rica began fielding applications for employment by bilingual individuals who were responding to a two-week-old classified. Blanca Games, the parent firm for Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet, began laying off employees in Costa Rica last week.

The company, like others in Costa Rica, in the face of the indictments ended the practice of accepting money from U.S. customers and began to consider ways to return funds that U.S. citizens already deposited.

Gambling operators and call centers have long been major employers of bilingual Costa Ricans. Frequently this meant that there were few bilingual applicants for other types of jobs, such as tourism.

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