With online gambling expected to be worth $ 39 billion by 2016, the industry risks becoming a haven for money laundering, according to a report released Thursday.

Security software company McAfee has warned of the rapid growth of illegal “unlicensed” online gambling websites, which are now so prolific that they are difficult for authorities to control, and where cash flows are anonymous and easy to conceal.

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“The number of licensed gambling sites is just a drop in the ocean compared to unlicensed sites. For every licensed online gambling site, there could be up to nine unlicensed online gaming sites, ”said report authors led by McAfee principal researcher Charles. McFarland.

The report cited estimates suggesting that there were 25,000 unlicensed gambling sites as of October 2011, and said there would likely be many more now.

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“With dozens of unlicensed gambling sites created every day, it’s likely that number has grown significantly,” McFarland said. “While requiring licenses for gambling operators is an important approach, this step does nothing to stop the wave of unlicensed operators.”

Gambling market research firm H2 Gambling Capital said that within three years the global market (for unlicensed gambling sites or all gambling sites?) Will increase. by nearly 30% to reach $ 39 billion. He predicted that poker sites would be the fastest growing, and said these sites offered money laundering opportunities.

Unlicensed sites make it easier for cybercriminals to launder dirty money because the identity and location of players are disguised. When used in conjunction with money laundering tools, they can also allow customers to anonymously convert to and from virtual currencies. McAfee warned that the well-known digital currency Bitcoin could offer additional anonymity to cyber thieves.

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McFarland suggested that cross-border and intersectoral cooperation, advanced data collection techniques and technologies, as well as additional training and awareness are needed to help fight money laundering.

So far this year, listed online gambling companies have had mixed fortunes. Online Game Creator Zynga reported a loss of $ 61 million in the first quarter this week. Shares closed more than 1.5% lower on Thursday, although they are still nearly 15% higher since the start of the year.

In the UK, online bookmakers have also struggled, with 888 tracks down 14% since the start of the year, and online betting site Betfair down 10% over the same period.

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