The online gambling industry is a global and multi-billion dollar industry and has always been the target of criminals and the underworld. Most countries have an illegal online gambling industry that functions under the radar of the authorities but sometimes generate a lot more money than the legalized gambling industry.
This appears to be the case in Italy as the Ndrangheta family was recently convicted for organizing and running a lucrative but illegal online gambling industry that is estimated to be around $65 million. The court in Bologna sentenced the 56 year old Nicola Femia to 26 years and 10 months in prison, his 32 year old daughter  Guendalina to 10 years and 3 months in prison and 26 year old son Nicola Rocco to 15 years in prison.
The Ndrangheta family is suspected to have times to the mafia which has come as a surprise to many since the family was from the Bologna area which is thought to be free from the clutches of the Italian mafia. The Ndrangheta family ran a number of online casino and online poker websites which was hosted in the United Kingdom and London but operated illegally in Italy. The family was responsible for running a number of online websites such as Vivacasinoelite.com, Davidcasino.com, Vanillascasino.com and 888Suite.com.
The illegal gambling operation run by the Ndrangheta family caught the attention of the authorities after Giovanni Tizian, an Italian investigative journalist turned his attention towards their underground operation. The family was aware that they were being investigated by Tizian as the authorities have recorded conversations of one of the members of Nicola Femia’s network who was willing to shoot Tizian’s mouth off for snitching.
The Ndrangheta family had developed an extensive network with a chain of command that was responsible for running over 50 gaming centers spread throughout the country. These centers acted as a front with their fake slot machines but were actually used to provide patrons to online gambling websites. The family also used mafia tactics to recover money from gamblers who got into debt with them.
Nicola Femia was able to run a successful underground operation in Italy for a number of years because he had a reliable partner in the United Kingdom. Massimiliano Rizzo was Femia’s partner and was responsible for organizing all online gambling activities in the United Kingdom. The financial police in Italy wiretapped a number of phone conversations between the two partners and their associates and have proof that Rizzo was involved in the illegal gambling operation in a number of ways including providing technical support.
Femia is reported to have made monthly trips to the United Kingdom to collect his share of the profits which amounted to around $25,000 per month. The court found that although Rizzo assisted in the illegal gambling operation, he did not have any ties with the Italian mafia and had no role to play in determining whether these online gambling websites were in compliance with gambling regulations in Italy.
Italy’s online poker industry has declined significantly over the last three years as online poker players in the country have complained about high tax rates, stringent regulations, lack of competition, a small player database and tournaments that were not very appealing. Many of these online poker players visit these illegal online gambling websites as the guarantees are higher and they are not subjected to taxes.
The country’s gaming regulator and the authorities are looking to crackdown on these illegal gambling websites as they are eating into the profit of legalized gambling operators and also the amount of gaming taxes that is collected by the government. Gaming regulators are also looking at implementing new gaming regulations that would allow international player liquidity so that Italy can collaborate with Spain and France in expanding their online poker markets and have a mutually beneficial relationship.
The crackdown and stiff penalty imposed by the courts on the Ndrangheta family could serve as a wakeup call to illegal gambling operators in the country. Journalist Giovanni Tizian also brought a lawsuit against the family for issuing threats against his life and the courts ruled in his favor awarding him a settlement of nearly $53,000. There is no indication as of now if the family will appeal the ruling and sentencing.
 
 

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