Iran Breaks Up Vast Online Gambling Network, Points Finger at UK

Posted on: March 11, 2024, 04:57h. 

Last updated on: March 11, 2024, 05:11h.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said Saturday it had “identified and destroyed” the largest organized online gambling and betting network that targeted citizens of the Islamic Republic.

Nitro Bet, Iran, online gambling, UK
Iran claims that the Nitro Bet network operated with the tacit approval of the British government. (Image: Reuters)

The ministry accused the UK government of “turning a blind eye” to the “London-based Mafia network” known as Nitro Bet or “Nitrobet,” in return for “huge taxes from fraudulent and illegal funds.”

Nitro Bet isn’t a brand known to operate online gambling in the UK and it’s unclear why it would be paying taxes to the British government on bets taken in Iran unless it was the secretive arm of a better-known betting company.

Nevertheless, Iran claimed Britain had “practically paved the way for criminal actions,” including money laundering.

35K Domestic Bank Accounts

Gambling has been illegal in Iran since the 1979 revolution, as the Quran forbids Muslims to gamble. Games of chance are described as a “grave sin” and “abominations of Satan’s handiwork” in Islamic scripture. But enforcing the ban is difficult, as authorities find themselves playing a game of whack-a-mole with agile operators based overseas.

The takedown of Nitro Bet was the result of 14 months of “complicated intelligence research and surveillance,” according to Iranian intelligence services.

The gambling network controlled around 35K domestic bank accounts and 1,200 payment gateways, the Intelligence Ministry said.

These were likely so-called “farmer accounts,” named for the method used by online gambling operators who target the lucrative Chinese black market. With the help of agents based within a targeted market, gambling sites buy up or rent thousands of personal bank accounts from regular citizens. In China, this is usually the rural poor, or “farmers.”

The system allows illegal operators to move the proceeds of gambling out of the country. While Iran is subject to certain international financial sanctions, there is no restriction on Western countries receiving payments from Iranian bank accounts.

‘Decadent Culture’

Nitro Bet was also in the process of establishing a social media stream of influencers who would “denigrate Islamic-Iranian values ​​and normalize the decadent culture of gambling in Iran’s Islamic society,” the ministry claimed.

Intelligence agents arrested five “managers” involved in the network from inside Iran. The defendants are accused of economic sabotage, operating online casinos, and receiving illegal profits.

Article 705 of the Islamic Penal Code states the penalty for illegal gambling is one to six months’ imprisonment or up to 74 lashes, or both if the offense is committed publicly.

In 2021, a bill was presented to the Iranian legislature that would have authorized the death penalty for illegal online gambling operators, according to the website Iran Human Rights Monitor. It did not become law.

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