U.S. estimates sportsbook income here at $12 billion a year

The crackdown on gambling operations in Costa Rica by U.S. officials is, in part, a fight against money laundering.

The 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released recently by the U.S. State Department estimates that sportsbook companies generate $12 billion here each year and employ 10,000. The estimate came before federal and state officials acted against several high-profile poker operations and forced them to close or at least reduce their U.S. operations.

One was reported to be bringing $50 millioin into the country each year.

The State Department also said that Costa Rican banks and financial institutions generated 304 suspicious transaction reports in 2010. Despite the number of reports, there were just nine money laundering convictions in 2010 through October. Less than $10 million was involved. In many of the cases, the action was brought after someone was caught transporting large amounts of money in a vehicle or across the national border, although the report did not report this.
The State Department also expressed concern about the estimated $200 million that Nicaraguans send to their home country each year, the report said. Much of this is sent via unlicensed money remitters, and these unregulated businesses are a significant risk for money laundering and a potential mechanism for terrorist financing, it added.

To a limited extent, money laundering/terrorist financing occurs across the formal financial sector, within the 33 free trade zones and in the non-bank financial system, the State Department said.

The report noted that several pieces of property owned in Costa Rica by an associate of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias Colombian terrorist group were frozen by the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control, but the owner fled.

Despite the problems, Costa Rica has demonstrated a genuine commitment to strengthening its anti-money laundering/counter-terrorist financing supervision and the country continues implementing new regulations directed at combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and organized crime, said the report.

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