The Rise and Fall of Underground Gambling Dens

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A player holding cards with stacks of chips in front of them.
BetMGM Dec 05, 2023, 10:46 AM

Despite the rise of online casino games and the increasing legality of gambling worldwide, you’re still likely to find an illegal gambling ring in many cities across the globe. From saloons in the U.S., spiels in the U.K., and illegal houses in Europe and beyond, gambling dens are an important part of the gambling industry’s history.

You may not have known much about illegal gambling dens until you watched a movie such as “Molly’s Game,” but they have existed just out of sight for decades. As more countries legalize gambling, however, their numbers are falling. 

Take a closer look at what constitutes a gambling ring or den, why they exist, and the rise and fall of some of the biggest gambling dens in history.

What Is a Gambling Den?

A gambling den is an underground gambling ring where people come together to gamble illegally. They are found in various locations, from basements and warehouses to mansions and highrises. They often include high-stakes, risky games that attract all sorts of gamblers. 

In many cases, a gambling den is run by a criminal organization, and you’ll find all sorts of dodgy business inside gambling rings. Gangs and criminal organizations use them as a source of income and a way to launder money.

Why Do Gambling Dens Exist?

There are several motivations behind gambling rings that have kept them going for what could be centuries. Many people who join gambling rings find them exciting and intriguing; the thrill of illegal gambling lures many in. What they don’t consider is the other shady goings-ons that usually take place at these establishments. 

In general, gambling dens are created as a way to dodge gambling laws. When there’s absolutely no oversight or control on gambling, then dens run amok, but if gambling is still illegal or highly regulated, people use dens to dodge this. So it can be a bit of a catch-22. Of course, profit is a huge motivator, too, which is significant in gambling dens given that they usually offer high-stakes games and there are no regulated taxes to pay. 

The Rise and Fall of Notorious Gambling Dens Around the World

There are a few notable gambling dens that have been disbanded over the years.

Vietnam’s $2.6bn Gambling Bust

Gambling rings aren’t restricted to physical places, and there’s been a marked growth in the use of technology used in online slots and other online games in illegal gambling. In May 2020, Vietnamese police broke up an online gambling ring that was worth $2.6 billion.

Gambling is illegal in many Asian countries, and the demand has pushed organized criminals to become bolder in their illegal pursuits. The website was called No Hu, or “break that bank,” and it operated in both online and offline domains. The website had “foot soldiers” located all over the country’s capital, Hanoi, where they would offer players credit and get money back that was owed.

Although the gambling ring was only in operation for two years, from 2018–2020, it was the country’s biggest-ever illegal gambling bust, and 16 people were arrested.

Seoul’s Complex Gambling Rings

Police had to really dig deep to bust a massive gambling ring in South Korea’s capital, Seoul. The ring operated between 2011 and 2017, when it was shut down. The police were well aware of the ring, but it was extremely well-managed. It originally operated out of an office building, with its own receptionists and employees as a front. On top of this, the operation also moved every few months.

Police had to go undercover, gaining the trust of those in the organization. They had to work their way up until they knew how it operated and who was in charge. The ring was running a profit of $5 million a year before law enforcement finally could bust it.

Frank Rosenthal’s Sports Scams

Frank Rosenthal was passionate about sports and gambling from a young age and was picked up by people with Mafia ties in his teens. They put him in charge of various aspects of their underground sportsbook operations.

His main job was to tempt punters into making bets that were rigged by his employers. He was so successful that he soon moved up the ladder and became an integral part of the rigging operation.

Police were able to close down these rings, but despite having a nearly 300-page dossier on him, the FBI was never able to charge Rosenthal or put him behind bars. He moved to Vegas, where he ran four of the Strip’s biggest casinos without proper documentation and got by on reputation alone. He remained tight-lipped to his deathbed.

New York’s Billion Dollar Sports Betting Bust

An illegal online sports syndicate was dismantled in 2016 in New York. Arthur Rossi, Claude Ferguson, Joseph Schneider, and Gordon Mitchnick were at the top of a billion-dollar sports betting scandal based across New York and California. They even had an offshore team in Costa Rica that processed large amounts of money and handled the technical side of the illegal gambling websites.

The four used password-protected websites where clients had to enter a specific word and number combination in order to access the betting site. The amount of money they made is unknown, as so much was laundered through property acquisition and more. But, it’s believed that a whopping $297 million in wagers passed through the illegal circuit for the 2015 NFL season alone.

Punters could bet on anything from horse racing and football to boxing, soccer, baseball, and basketball. They also had blackjack and poker on their website.

Stay on the Right Side of the Law With BetMGM

While these gambling dens and rings are becoming less tempting, given the increase in legalization and the accessibility of online games like jackpot slots, online poker, and more, they do still exist. Playing at these illegal casinos is dangerous; they’re unregulated and don’t have to follow any rules, which can put you and your money in a high-risk situation.

BetMGM is a trustworthy, registered online casino that cares for its players, their money, and their welfare. Register and play with one of the U.S.A.’s most trusted online casino providers.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.