The World's Biggest Black Markets Revealed

Canada ranks 7th in the world for its total black market value of $77.83 billion, but how do other countries compare? Click the dropdown below to discover who's making the biggest profit from illegal activities. Spoiler alert: everyone's guilty.

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Top 3 activities

Note: Default currency is USD unless stated otherwise.

The data above includes total estimated size of black market and a country's top 3 biggest black markets. For countries where >3 biggest markets are shown it is because the data does not include a specific monetary value, rather it is statistical.

Illegal Gambling Compared around the world

From cockfights to underground lotteries, illegal gambling in all forms is rife across the globe. In fact, it's estimated to be the 5th largest black market in the world. Pick a country below to discover some facts and figures about its illicit gambling activities.

  • Hosts of cockfighting matches can earn up to $2,000 a day, while a winning purse can be as high as $15,000 in LA, California. On average, about 100 people are arrested for cockfighting rings in California each year.
  • Online gambling is legalised on a state-by-state basis, but it's estimated that $2.6 billion is illegally gambled on offshore gambling websites by US residents every year.
  • In June, police in Downtown Los Angeles conducted a raid on a business that was a hub of illegal activity, including gambling, and arrested at least 35 individuals.

    It's not always the most extreme criminal groups getting into trouble, though. In January, LAPD raided a retirement community's bingo hall that was operating without a license.

  • According to the South China Morning Post, an estimated $90 billion in gaming revenue in Macau went unrecorded in 2013, while just $45 billion was officially reported.
  • Police in Macau cracked an illegal gambling ring that took in a staggering $645 million during the opening matches of the 2014 World Cup. It was operating out of three hotel rooms, where illegal bookies took internet and phone bets from people across the world.

    Hong Kong police seized $10 million worth of illegal betting slips and arrested 39 people in the first two weeks of the tournament.

  • Illegal sports betting in Hong Kong generates around $64.5 billion each year.
  • Only two forms of gambling are legal in Thailand: the lottery and horse betting on the tracks in Bangkok.
  • It's estimated that there are between 700,000 to 1,000,000 illegal casinos and gambling dens operating across the country.
  • The underground lottery in Thailand is big business. Operators use the official Thai lottery to draw the winning numbers but offer better odds and bigger prizes than the government, which is why more people play its illegal counterpart. An estimated 19,923,643 people are thought to play.
  • The only gambling permitted in Israel is the government-controlled sports betting websites and lottery. Online and offline gambling casinos are forbidden, except for on certain cruise ships docked in big port cities.
  • Israel's illegal gambling market is estimated to be worth $3.5 billion.
  • Despite the country blocking gambling domains, many Israeli gamblers have found ways to by-pass these restrictions.
  • FIFA (The International Federation of Association Football) estimates that organized crime syndicates profit up to $15 billion a year by fixing football matches.
  • One single match fixing scandal in Italy is estimated to make the Camorra and Mafia $2.6 billion.
  • Gambling investigations in Italy found that it costs up to $516,0000 to fix a football match in the top Italian league.
  • In Japan, gambling is mostly banned with exceptions for some sports betting and lotteries. Land-based casinos were made legal in 2018. The Japanese casino market is expected to be worth $15 billion by 2025 but there are fears it will be a hotspot for organized crime.
  • Every year Japanese gamblers spend $200 billion on pachinko, a pinball game similar to slot machines. According to Business Insider, that's 30 times more than the annual gambling revenue of Las Vegas.
  • A number of organized crime groups run illegal gambling dens where computers display video of casinos in the Philippines and Costa Rica and punters bet virtually in real time.
  • In Singapore, any form of gambling in public is illegal.
  • According to the AFP, illegal gambling ring operators can make between $1,566 to $2,349 (2,000 to 3,000 SGD) a day handling bets.
  • Security officials arrested 15 people in an illegal gambling ring that took in $640,000 in bets during the opening stages of the World Cup.
  • In 2012, 1,000 illegal casinos were shut down. Nearly 11,000 casino machines were seized and around 5,000 people were arrested.
  • The following year there were more raids: in the first five months of 2013, police shut down 363 illegal casinos. They seized 4,014 video lottery terminals and arrested 1,889 people.
  • In the first 11 months of 2018, Greece's legal online gambling operators generated gross gaming revenue of €356 million. According to an investigation conducted by the Committee of Institutions and Transparency of the Greece Parliament, the annual turnover in illegal gambling in the country is €6 billion.
  • Sports betting and other gambling games are permitted, however, there are tons of illegal gambling parlors operating in the backrooms of legal gaming rooms.
  • According to organized crime experts, illegal gambling houses provide up to $10,000 a week in “tax payments” to Mexican drug cartels.
  • In 2000, there were approximately 100 of these legal gambling houses with hidden illegal rooms in Mexico. In 2011, this figure had grown to over 800.
  • According to the KPMG and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the illegal gambling market in India has an estimated worth of $49 billion (3 Trillion Rupees).
  • The majority of illegal bookies operate out of jewellery shops, which allows for easy money laundering. Bets placed can range from $80 to $81,000 (5,000 to 5 million rupees).
  • In October 2018, 500 poker rooms in Bengaluru, Karnataka, were shut down in an attempt to curb illegal activity. One month later, a gambling ring in Delhi was busted where 100 people were arrested.
  • Gambling is heavily restricted in South Korea: residents can play at only one of the county's casinos - and not regularly, either.

    Gambling abroad is also illegal, with citizens risking imprisonment for being an "overseas habitual gambler", like famous K-Pop stars Shoo and Jung Jin Woo.

  • Foreigners can gamble legally at any South Korean casino without any limits.
  • The legal gambling market is worth $15.2 billion, which is less than a quarter of its illegal counterpart's worth.
South Korea
  • Since a gambling law took effect in 2009 that only permits gambling in four rural regions, over 61,000 illegal casinos and gambling dens have been shut down.
  • Between 2009-2013, 796,000 slot machines were seized by police and a total of $17.1 million of fines were handed out to owners of underground gambling rings.
  • There are thousands of illegal gambling rings operating across the country. In 2018, Russian authorities cracked a huge criminal network of 15 underground casinos in Moscow, arresting 100 people.

The Biggest Money-Makers In Each Continent

We reveal which country in each continent is making the most profit from its biggest illicit activity.

Here's What You Could Buy
With The Global Black Market's

The estimated value of the global black market is a massive $1,812,102.83 million ($1.81 trillion). So, just how many iPhones, cars and Big Mac Meals could you buy with that?

How Many Could You Buy?
iPhone XS $999
1.8 billion
Airpods $199
9 billion
Netflix Basic Subscription $8.99/month
201 billion
Nike Air Jordan 1 High React $170
10 billion
Nikon DSLR D5 Camera $6,499.95
278 million
Big Mac Meal $5.99
302 billion
BMW X2 $36,400
49 million
Kim Kardashian & Kanye West’s Mansion $60m
14 Day Inclusive Vacation To Bali $5,653
320 million
Wembley Stadium $1.17b
Coachella Tickets $429
4 billion

4 Things You Never Knew About The Black Market

  • Crude Oil

    Crude oil is the most valuable item on the black market, with $133 billion worth of fuel being stolen every year. Much of the profits fund the biggest criminal organizations and terrorist groups in the world.

  • Organ trafficking

    Organ trafficking accounts for up to 10% of all kidney transplants.

  • Illegal gambling

    In 2012, illegal gambling was the most lucrative shadow market in the world. It is now the 5th biggest, behind counterfeit drugs, prostitution, counterfeit electronics and marijuana.

  • Cow

    Around 1.5 million cows are smuggled every year from India into Bangladesh and sold on the black market for meat. Since 2007, cows have been issued with photo IDs to try to prevent smuggling (surprisingly without much success).

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Our Expert Contributor

Transnational crime groups who profit from human trafficking, drugs, guns, and a variety of other serious offences, have also repeatedly been found to be the same people who control the manufacture of everything from fake pesticides to counterfeit car parts. In June 2019, one joint Interpol – Europol operation into counterfeit food and drink resulted in the arrest of over 600 people from a number of countries, which shows how widespread the problem is now.

The professionalization of counterfeiting has also led to a fundamental increase in massive shipments of unsafe consumer and industrial goods. Because organized crime groups have moved into much more specialized fields like chemical and pharmaceutical fabrication, they have now established factories and production warehouses where they install high-end machinery, trained scientists, and modern slaves who are forced to work at the production of fake cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol.

In the case of pharmaceuticals, it’s also no longer just illegal drugs, but these groups have shifted into the production of anabolics, hormones, and even anti-cancer medications. These should be worrying trends for anyone who considers buying drugs from sources online simply because they are a little cheaper.

Stephen Connolly
Stephen Connolly

Brand Protection Consultant & Writer