Major League Baseball has named Betcris, an online sportsbook based in Costa Rica, as its first official wagering partner in Latin America.
The partnership is similar to deals MLB has done with licensed sportsbooks in the U.S. and internationally. Betcris will receive access to MLB's official data feed as well as rights to league marks and logos.
Betcris is not licensed in the U.S., and according to CEO JD Duarte, has not taken bets from anyone in the U.S. since 2007, after a federal law was put in place targeting the monetary transactions involving online gambling.
Still, U.S. authorities have eyed Betcris in multiple past gambling investigations. In 2013, prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of New York alleged that Betcris was among a network of offshore sportsbooks used by an illegal bookmaking operation based in Florida. The case led to four convictions, three on money laundering charges and one on gambling charges.
Duarte denied that his company was involved in the bookmaking operation. He maintains that the company does not accept bets from the U.S. and is not involved with any other operators that do.
"There is no shot [that U.S.-based bettors are playing on Betcris]," Duarte told ESPN on Friday. "I have a compliance team, risk and fraud team, and we do not let anyone play from the U.S."
Major League Baseball and Betcris had been discussing a partnership for two years. In evaluating the deal, MLB spoke with international and domestic gambling regulators and went as far as to attempt to sign up for an account with Betcris but could not gain access from the U.S.
A source familiar with the league's thinking said MLB was aware of the attention Betcris had received from U.S. authorities but ultimately was comfortable that since Duarte took over the business around 2007, the sportsbook had operated within the rules.
"Some of MLB's most loyal fans reside in Latin America, so it was important to partner with the right gaming operator in the region to engage those passionate fans and also help us reach new audiences," Kenny Gersh, executive vice president of gaming and new business ventures at Major League Baseball, said in a release announcing the deal.
The partnership between Major League Baseball and Betcris comes at a time when the new regulated sports betting market in the U.S. is attempting to attract bettors away from offshore operators who have served Americans online for decades. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), the federal statute that had restricted regulated sports betting to primarily Nevada and forced bettors in most states to look for other options to place their bets. Since the ruling, legal sportsbooks have opened in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
While PASPA was in place, the offshore betting market exploded with dozens of commercial online sportsbooks opening in Latin and Central America and taking billions of dollars in bets from U.S. gamblers annually. Betcris was among the biggest and remains one of the most influential sportsbooks that offers bets on American sports. When Betcris releases lines, it's common for every other sportsbook to adjust odds and point spreads to match the Betcris number.
The American Gaming Association, a Washington, D.C. trade group that represents the U.S. casino industry, has launched an initiative to help educate bettors and media outlets distinguish between legal and illegal betting markets.
"It may be hard for Americans to bet directly with Betcris, since they aren't licensed or regulated [in the U.S.], but there's a ton of confusion for American consumers about what's legal and what's not," Casey Clark, senior vice president of strategic communication for the AGA, told ESPN. "Our hope is that MLB, and really every league entering these partnerships, will work to make sure fans in the U.S. know that this isn't a legal betting option for them."
Duarte said Betcris does have hopes of becoming a licensed bookmaker in the U.S.
"I want to get into the U.S. at some point, hopefully soon," Duarte said. "I don't want to risk that."