BetCRIS.com is a popular online betting site well known in Spanish speaking markets. They have significant offline presence in the form of multiple casinos, sports clubs, or betting shops in Mexico, Venezuela, and Panama with a smaller brick and mortar presence in other countries as well. Although they’re best known today for the version of football played with one’s foot, their roots are tied to the other sport called football (gridiron). Back in 1994, shortly after America’s top bookie Ronald Sacco was arrested, his former crew was recruited by a man named Harry Craft. Together Mr. Craft and what was left of Sacco’s operation set up shop in Costa Rica under the name Costa Rica International Sportsbook (CRIS).
Where the Line Originates
Only months after settling in Costa Rica, in 1995 the higher ups at CRIS decided to take a major risk. As one the largest shops with about 4% market share in the US alone, they began questioning “what if we could beat Las Vegas to the punch?” The group then hired talented handicappers to try something no bookie had dared since Gary Austin Sportsbook failed. These handicappers would give their opinion of what they believed the correct point spread should be for each NFL football game. Less than a year later they perfected their model well enough to start posting odds a full 24 hours before Las Vegas. This process was repeated for other sports and before long bookies that used to have agents on standby at all major Nevada sportsbook, now simply needed to be on the phone with CRIS at the time odds opened for NFL, NCAAF, NBA, NCAAB, MLB and NHL.
Ron Sacco and CRIS
Although he was in prison at the time, it was widely known during the 1990’s that CRIS was established by the former crew of America’s top Bookie Ronald “The Cigar” Sacco. After earning many millions by leveraging his outstanding reputation, CRIS made good when Sacco was released from prison on May 15, 1998. Although on supervised release at the time – he believed Costa Rica was non-extraditable for bookmaking and similar crimes. Most likely using a fake passport, he fled there and took on a consultant position with CRIS which was the equivalent of a top executive roll. The success CRIS experienced with his name, face and voice now truly behind the brand was amazing. For detailed information read our article on Ron Sacco – the Cigar.
BetCRIS receives a lot of attention as being the first, but keep in mind this only applies to “offshore betting targeting the US via call centers”. Intertops was the first sportsbook, and many other sites such as BetMaker, WSEX, Sportsbook.com, VIP, Pinnacle Sports etc. were all online before CRIS. When they do come online though, BetCRIS spared no expense when launching their first interactive betting website in March 2000. This website branded with the words “our motto is we can’t pay you fast enough” and it featured an endorsement from Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, the man depicted by Robert De Niro in the 1995 Martin Scorsese film ‘Casino’. It was actually Lefty who first coined the saying “where the line originates” when referring to CRIS. The company later decided on that as their website tagline.
CRIS also had the mentality they wanted to take on the world. Although United States media portrayed CRIS as a US operation using Costa Rica as a safe haven, true to their name Costa Rica International Sportsbook the company has always been global. In February 2001 a Chinese version of BetCRIS was launched at chinesegambler.com, and over the next couple years a half dozen additional sites would open targeting Norway, Sweden as well as Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries.
BetCRIS Marketing Boost
Oddly enough it was Ron “Cigar” Sacco getting arrested in Costa Rica in March 2002 that helped put BetCRIS on the map with recreational sports gamblers. Although true Costa Rica was virtually non-extraditable for bookmaking and similar crimes – Sacco was caught having two passports and eventually as a result was deported to the United States on the Fourth of July in 2002. During his plea, details of the BetCRIS operation were released in court documents – which were soon used by gambling portals to help market how safe and secure a gambling website www.betcris.com truly was.
These documents showed that even though their founder Harry Craft was apprehended in the United States in 1998 and convicted for running his earlier Santa Monica operation, the CRIS brand never skipped a beat. It pointed out that today (March 2003) Costa Rican International Sports is a legally licensed and legitimate Costa Rican corporation that pays all required taxes and fees, and is run by a president, vice-president, general manager, corporate counsel, supervisors and has some 140 employees. It furthered showed their operation was divided into separate departments which were the wagering department, marketing department, finance, Asian operation and European operations.
Considering for many years the US authorities and media had portrayed the “Sacco operation” as the America’s largest bookmaking organizations that illegally booked hundreds of millions of dollars in bets per month (billions per year), BetCRIS.com was now an easy sell. Here you could point out this was the largest gambling website in the world, and even though numerous associates have been indicted, arrested and convicted, including unique heads of their operation in 1998, and 2002 – this company has NEVER missed a payout. When you wager with most bookies you need to worry “will they pay?”, “what will happen if they get busted?”, while wagering with BetCRIS.com your money is safer than it would be wagering with a Nevada sportsbook. Of course, that later part is a stretch, but at the time many websites did point out the occasions where legally licensed Las Vegas sportsbook went bust and couldn’t pay back their post-up phone account bank, or cash winning tickets once they closed.
BetCRIS Paints the Story
During the 1980’s and 1990’s Ron Sacco appeared on popular television shows (including 60-minutes), was discussed in magazines, had books written about him and with him now apprehended in the US there was no shortage of media attention in 2003. Rather than distancing themselves from their former employee who was being charged, as most corporations would, BetCRIS embraced it. Advertisements featuring a burning cigar were used and their about us page was written to claim they’ve been a leader in sports betting since 1985. CRIS has always lived up to his reputation and standards, so I guess how much involvement Sacco truly had in their brand was irrelevant. During much of 2003 though, they used the media attention for all it was worth. While previously using a flashy homepage, the new homepage was a letter signed by John Melton (most likely an alias) which read:
We at Costa Rica International Sports have redesigned our website to reflect our reputation in the industry. We are a straight forward sports book with no flashy graphics and no BS. Our competitors know CRIS as “Where the line originates”, because most will not make a move before we do and our customers know CRIS for our company motto, “We can’t pay you fast enough”. Everyone knows CRIS was the first offshore sports book to open in the mid 1980’s and not one player has ever been kicked out for winning. That’s a track record no one can match!!!
We invite you to join the world’s oldest and respected sports book and if you want to take a break from the sports action check out our poker room and casino. Also, don’t forget to enter our loyalty program to qualify for our prizes and bonuses. Contact one of our online representatives if you have any questions or comments.
This was the first time the claim “not one player has ever been kicked out for winning” was ever made, and when the Ron Sacco media hype stopped it was what CRIS pushed and became known for. This was a site where winning bettors could wager $10,000, $20,000 or even $40,000 on an NFL side win at a huge clip and still not be banned. CRIS further showed their dominance from 2003 to 2006 when they bailed out a good 80% of sportsbooks that failed during those years.
BetCRIS Acquisitions and Bailouts
One of the first sportsbooks to set up offshore was Diamond Sports International, now operating at www.betdsi.com (more about them in our article on BetDSI.com history). This once reputable sportsbooks ran into major financial struggles in 2002, which start with a dispute between owners. When the dispute was settled new management was hired to run the brand, but then a dispute between management and ownership started. By early 2003, everything was shambles. Perhaps not profitable to do at the time for most – CRIS was thinking “long term”. They ended giving major financing to this brand for a share of equity, which including leasing them a small 40 desk spot in their building, full use of their software, support and other facilities as needed in exchange for equity profit sharing. Had it not been for this, players would have been stiffed as even salary to employees was well past due.
Perhaps seeing the response this got on forums relieved CRIS had bailed them out – this is became a routine thing for CRIS, though future bailed out brands were generally, but not always, shutdown and migrated to www.betcris.com. Some of the many sportsbooks CRIS bailed out between 2003 and 2006 include Option Sports, Get More Sports, ASAP Sports, Rich Coast Sports and TCBets. In these cases bettors would have been have stiffed had CRIS not come to the rescue making good on player’s balances.
BetCRIS.com Closes to the US
On March 1, 2007 all US players had their BetCRIS account migrated to Bookmaker (now operating at www.bookmaker.eu). This is a brand CRIS had acquired when purchasing the BetMaker group in August 2006. The plan going forward was for CRIS to focus on the European market while Bookmaker was their US brand. This is how it worked for a while, until late-2010 when BetCRIS and Bookmaker separated entirely. Today Bookmaker accepts players from all over the globe still operating from the old BetCRIS office in Costa Rica, while the new BetCRIS is licensed in Malta and has some form of “legal physical presence” in Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Panama, Brasil, Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras and Rwanda. Their website is extremely popular in many Spanish speaking countries and they are one of top brick and mortar betting shops in Venezuela.
Today BetCRIS is about “legal” sports betting. For the continued history of their US operation which dates back to operation started by Ron “The Cigar” Sacco in 1985 that was once managed by Tony Ballestrasse and Marisa Lankester refer to our article on the history of bookmaker.eu.