“All numbers sold,” says a huge makeshift sign placed in a Josefino canton, which also offers “Digitales, Nacional, Dominicana, Panamá, Nica, New York and Parley”.
The menu of available games is accompanied by the image of the “Gordo Navideño” of the Junta de Protección Social (JPS) – the “legal” lottery in Costa Rica.
This scene is not an isolated case. It is repeated in sodas, beauty salons, gaming rooms and even in butcher and other shops all over the greater metropolitan area such as Moravia, Goicoechea, Montes de Oca (San Pedro), Tibás, Desamparados and is a reflection of the excessive proliferation of illegal or clandestine lotteries in the last five years that moves some ¢175 billion colones (more than US$300 million dollars) last year alone.
The JPS estimates the illegal lotteries 75% in the last three years.
To give you an idea of the size of the numbers game, last year the JPS took in ¢58 billion colones.
Four players, talking to Patricia Recio of La Nación in preparing her report, told her after making purchases in different parts of Guadalupe, on the basis of anonymity, agreed that the prize amounts are of great influence when choosing between the legal games or some other
In fact, the study that was conducted between October and November 2019, revealed that 84% of the illegal lotteries operate in combination with lotteries from Panama, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and the United States, as well as with the so-called “criollas” they use the numbers drawn by the JPS lottery to award prizes.
The document also mentions that in a sample of 350 lottery players consulted, 46% acknowledged that they buy illegal games and 59% would continue to do so in the future.
The impact of the illegal lotteries is that it takes profits from the legal lottery money that could be distributed by the JPS among the social beneficiaries and programs it operates.
“There is a market that with innovative products and creative actions we have been fighting to increase. It has managed to raise sales, but without a doubt, the distribution would be greater if that illegal business did not exist ”, says the president of the JPS, Esmeralda Britton.
The main problem facing the JPS is that it there is no legal framework to combat the illegal sale of the lottery and, in addition, it has only five inspectors for the entire country.
On the positive side, JPS production manager Evelyn Blanco, denies that it is facing an uncontrollable situation and ensures that competition based on the innovation of its products is its most effective weapon, so far to combat the black market.
For Blanco, an uncontrollable situation would be that the JPS would have no earnings.
The situation is quite the contrary. One of the new products put out recently by the JPS is the “acumulado” (accumulated), one of the more successful, which according to Blanco has resulted in a growth (recuperation) of about 20% of the market for the JPS.
Illegal lotteries have always existed in Costa Rica, historically operating underground, now, becoming noticeable in 2013, when the JPS launched the electronic lottery, the illegal lottery business is out in the open shamelessly or “descarado” in Spanish
The JPS has also been a victim of plagiarism the illegal lotteries copying the legal games and even using operating systems used in the JPS terminals to deliver game receipts. “We take an action and they copy it. Right now we are waiting for the Tiempos that is paying 200 times, but that (if they copy) will break many banks (of the illegals) because paying 200 times is a complex structure,” she said.
“They have technology, in fact, they had started using a UBS stick that they were selling. They gave it to the points of sales and copied the receipts, we open new points of sale and they open more, we put a game paying 70 times, but they have three, four where they pay 80, 90 and even 100 times,” said the Production Manager.
According to JPS officials, the only way to sustain payments that exceed 90% is with ill-gotten money, money obtained from money laundering, terrorist financing and other criminal activities, a “mafia” if you will, to pay out big prizes “because an official formal structure does not give enough to pay those prizes,” according to Evelyn Blanco
JPS president Esmeraldo Britton argues that this issue about the source of funds to finance illegal games is an aspect that players should be aware of.
“Costa Rica should consider that the capital that moves in this type of illegality is of doubtful origin and that when a person allocates money for illegal games, in turn, they are contributing to illegal activities,” said Britton.
The authorities even claim that they have been aware of some cases in which official sellers reported having been threatened to offer illegal products, but there have been no formal complaints filed.
The JPS has its hands tied since the current legislation does not contemplate such crimes. The JPS can only act against one of their vendors who is found, in addition to selling the legal games, also the clandestine, but only to the point of taking away the seller’s rights.
The JPS cannot close premises or seize equipment or products. During raids on premises known for the illegal games, the police action – more than 300 last by the Municipality of San Jose – is for irregularities such as not having a health permit or other licensing issues
Closures don’t go past 24 hours as the operator remedied the licensing problems quickly.
Similar operations are carried out by municipal police in Guápiles, Cartago, Desamparados and others.
A legislative bill before the Drug Trafficking Commission, that seeks to establish the legal framework that allows acting in light of the new times and that establishes sanctions that includes prison for those who operate illegal banks and sell illegal lotteries, is moving at a crawl pace explained the president of the JPS.
At the center of the discussion of the bill is the use of resources of municipal police forces and the distribution of the take from the seizures or fines.
According to legislator Gustavo Viales, if an when the bill moves of the committee, the task is then to negotiate with the government of the day to get it to the legislative floor for discussion and voting.