Timing is strange for offshore online casino and sportsbook

Why Is 5Dimes Stopping Its US Online Gambling Operations Just Before NFL Season Begins?

Offshore gambling operator 5Dimes announced late on Monday that it would soon be ceasing US operations. In a post on its website, it informed players that it would no longer take bets from US customers starting on September 21 at noon, ET.

Although 5Dimes’s primary product is its sportsbook, it offers a full suite of gambling products. These include an online casino, poker and even a “lottery” product using the results of actual US lottery draws.

The company operates out of Costa Rica. Like many offshore operators serving US clientele, it uses a .eu domain. This is to avoid the possibility of it being seized by foreign law enforcement like the US Department of Justice, as happened to poker sites during the events of Black Friday in 2011.

Its founder, William Sean “Tony” Creighton, was a US citizen who went missing in late 2018. Authorities found his body one year later, after his alleged kidnappers were already in custody. That investigation is still underway and there is no trial date as yet.

5Dimes gave no immediate indication for the reason for its decision. It did, however, make a vague promise to relaunch in the US as “a better [company] for our customers.”

That has led some to speculate that it will attempt to enter the market legally in states where that possibility exists. This seems unlikely to work, however. A more plausible explanation is that continued illegal operations in the US are incompatible with other aspects of its plans.

US customers must withdraw before the end of the month

5Dimes’s promised return to the market notwithstanding, US customers must withdraw their funds for now or risk losing them. The deadline to do so is Sept. 25, four days after the site will stop taking bets from affected customers.

It has taken a few steps to facilitate withdrawals, such as removing internal limits for maximum and minimum transactions. That said, it has no control over third-party payment processors, many of which will have limits of their own. Customers with large balances may have to go through multiple channels to withdraw their funds, or do so in installments. Refunds are available for any futures bets that would only be settled after Sept. 25.

Any funds left in US customer accounts five days after the withdraw deadline will be transferred to an unspecified claims administrator. 5Dimes says this third party will make every effort to return those funds to the appropriate parties. If still unclaimed after one year, those funds will be deemed abandoned and presumably pocketed by 5Dimes itself.

Players being directed to a suspiciously similar alternative

Although the 5Dimes brand is leaving the market, it seems as if the company has other brands that will continue to serve US customers.

According to multiple reports on social media (Reddit, Twitter), 5Dimes customer support is instructing affected players to play at another offshore site, BetAnySports.

Not only does this site offer an identical suite of products to 5Dimes, but the text of many of its pages is a word-for-word copy of that on 5Dimes’s site. This includes, for instance, the entirety of its terms of service, its privacy policy and the description of its affiliate program.

BetAnySports, meanwhile, now has a balance transfer promotion in place. Players with an account on another sportsbook can receive a 50% bonus on whatever funds they move over. This is presumably meant to appease customers inconvenienced by the discontinuation of the 5Dimes brand.

In other words, the company’s apparent withdrawal from the US appears to somewhat illusory. What it’s seeking to gain by pulling out with its primary brand is less obvious. It does, however, resemble the actions of another Costa Rican offshore operator, BetCris. This company officially stopped serving US players more than a decade ago. In that case, too, another dot-eu company, Bookmaker, stepped up to fill its place with a suspiciously identical product.

Several problems with the legitimate return theory

It’s true that companies sometimes attempt to pivot from gray or black markets into legal operations. PokerStars is the canonical example, having landed on the wrong side of Black Friday, but now operating legally in several states.

That said, it’s highly unlikely that this is the plan for 5Dimes. The fact that it is encouraging players to switch to another, likely affiliated offshore site is only one reason. It’s a big one, however. The two sites would surely be making a greater effort to conceal their similarities if 5Dimes were attempting to appear compliant.

Even if a legal return to the US were 5Dimes’s plan, the chances of success would be close to zero. In order to make itself welcome in the legal US market, PokerStars had to jump through many hoops. It not only made good on its own US account balances, but bailed out former competitor Full Tilt.

It then went public, and purged itself of every trace of its former owners and management. Even so, its history has prevented it from pursuing a license in Nevada. It’s also now a part of the Flutter gambling empire (of which FanDuel is a part). It may prove similarly problematic in other states down the line.

The timing is also suspect, if we are to believe that this was a planned decision. The NFL season will just be getting underway as 5Dimes exits the market. Short of canceling just before the Super Bowl or March Madness, it’s hard to imagine a less opportune moment.

Could 5Dimes be seeking Latin American sponsorships?

A more likely explanation is that 5Dimes is playing a shell game to avoid some threat to its business or its relationship with outside companies. When dealing with illegal operations that are outside their reach, US authorities often target their partners in adjacent industries. For instance, the point of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was to allow the DOJ to pursue third-party payment providers. More recently, New Jersey began pursuing affiliate marketing sites, which led to some offshore operators to pull out of that market while still serving other states.

To counteract that approach, offshore operators tend to have complicated corporate structures. Bodog, for example, spun off a separate Bovada brand for the US market. It did so as an attempt to create some separation between those illegal operations and its arguably legal activities elsewhere. That obfuscation continued with the acquisition of Bovada by another offshore operator, Ignition Casino, and then by Chinese company PaiWangLuo.

While protecting affiliates or payment providers could be an explanation, a second piece of news this week provides an alternative theory. On Tuesday, BetCris announced that it had reached a sponsorship deal with the NFL for the Latin American market. It’s the company’s second major league deal in as many months, following a similar one with MLB in July.

Neither the company’s activities in the US before 2006 nor its presumed association with Bookmaker.eu — which continues to serve US customers — has prevented it from forging those relationships. Given the similarities between 5Dimes’s current approach and BetCris’s in 2006, it may be separating its US and international gray market businesses in the hopes of striking similar deals.

Whatever the case may prove to be, both stories highlight the complicated relationship between legalization in the US and the pre-existing offshore black market.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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