by Jeremy Martin
Costa Rica has always been known for its draw as a world-class vacation destination. Tourism, along with agriculture and technology, has been driving the country's economy for years. Recently, however, the small Central American country that shares borders with Nicaragua and Panama has been known for another industry. Costa Rica has become the world's hot spot for the offshore sports betting industry.
Estimates indicate that there are roughly 300 sportsbooks operating in Costa Rica. These betting shops, which range from large-scale operations to small credit shops, employ approximately 10,000 people, many of who are local citizens. The sports betting industry was initially attracted to the country because of its strong technological infrastructure and its educated workforce, not to mention a stable government. A handful of books set up shop in Costa Rica in the mid-1990s. After these initial pioneers experienced success, many others in the industry soon followed.
Ana Laura Madrigal in front of the Bodog logo in Costa Rica
|The impact of the sportsbooks on the local economy has been profound - yet not widely publicized outside of sports betting circles. Although sports wagering is experiencing growth of unprecedented proportions, some still do not want to acknowledge it as a legitimate industry.|
Sportsbooks offer some of the highest paying jobs of any industry in the country. They hire mostly college-aged applicants who might struggle to find jobs in other areas. Surprisingly, sports knowledge isn't even a necessity. The most qualified applicants are those with a firm grasp of the English language and top-notch customer service skills.
"There are about 8,000 (local citizens) working for this industry, and most of them are young people (who) are just leaving school," said Luis Pereira, a gaming lawyer from the capital city of San Jose. "This industry is very important for the country."
"There are many business endeavors in Costa Rica that financially translate into profitable ventures," added Bob Greer, marketing director for Costa Rica-based Skybook. "However, the effect of the gaming industry on the local economy is evident. You would have to be blind or have an agenda against the industry not to notice the positive effects it has on (the country).
"The revenue generated by the industry allows operators to pay above average wages to the work force. This results in thousands of local(s having) additional money to spend. The money earned by the work force within the industry can be seen in areas that were non-existent 10 years ago. New homes, cars, clothes, trips and many other luxuries that were considered exclusive to the wealthy in Costa Rica 10-20 years ago. Back in 1994, Mercedes Benz and BMW were the only two luxury automobiles in Costa Rica. Today, seeing a Porsche, Ferrari, Hummer, Jaguar and many other high-end brands is a common occurrence."
Not only does the industry have a direct affect on the locals who are employed by the sportsbooks, but the revenue generated by offshore betting also trickles down into many other areas of the local economy. Sportsbook employees are often the breadwinners for their family. In some cases they are able to provide for large families just from the wages they earn at their job. Restaurants, car dealerships and commercial and residential real estate are just a few areas where the industry's positive impact on the economy can be seen.
Lorena Diaz is one of the many local citizens that has increased her quality of living with a job in the sportsbook industry. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in journalism, Diaz worked long hours for low pay in that field until she spotted a newspaper ad for a job at Bodog Sportsbook. In the three years that she has worked for the book, Diaz has thrived. She is now making more money than most of her peers and she has a stable job that she truly enjoys.
"There aren't that many job offers out there," she said. "Even if you have a degree, you'll probably be underpaid. (The industry) has helped the economy, not only because it employs a great number of students, but also the investment (United States) citizens and many others have made in the country."
Diaz has seen significant personal growth since becoming part of the Bodog team. She started off as a clerk in the customer service department and she is now a human resources manager and shift supervisor. Her schedule has allowed her the time to pursue a graduate degree in Latin American studies.
Many of the locals that work in this industry, in fact, are students. Most books offer flexible schedules that allow their employees to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees. This makes the industry even more attractive to those who would likely have to work a rigid schedule for low pay in other local industries.
Workers' salaries are also not subject to the devaluation of the local currency - the colon - since most are paid in American dollars.
"If you work for a sportsbook and earn dollars, you do not suffer the effects of inflation," said Mike Hertz, customer care department manager and executive host for Skybook. "Instead you are constantly receiving an increase in pay as the local economy loses its value. There are many people that benefit from this industry, both directly and indirectly."
"I don't have my bachelor's degree yet, and I get paid as if I did," added Ana Laura Madrigal, who works in Bodog's props department.
Although sports knowledge is definitely a plus for those in Costa Rica who are looking for a job in the industry, it is not one of the top requirements. Candidates who are proficient in English and those that are good on the phones are usually considered attractive applicants to sportsbook executives. Writing and Internet marketing skills are also looked on positively. If an applicant has all of these skills and some knowledge of American sports, they are probably able to find a job in the industry without much of a problem.
American sports didn't get much exposure before the sportsbooks set up shop in Costa Rica. But now they are covered in detail in the local newspapers and television stations. Since the sportsbooks came to town, many more Costa Rica citizens are becoming familiar with the betting aspect of sports.
"I have always been a sports fan - tennis and football all the way," said Madrigal. "I have a test account and I get to place wagers. I love placing teasers. I won most of them during football season. Now during basketball season, I'm losing most of them. I'm not a very good basketball handicapper."
"I practiced football, basketball, baseball and various other sports all my life; so I loved sports prior to working at Skybook," added Hertz. "I had a basic understanding of what a point spread was, but never did I imagine that there was such an interest in sports betting, nor an actual industry that revolved around sports betting like I have now seen."
To visit Doc's Sports Skybook page, Click Here.
To visit Doc's Sports Bodog page, Click Here.
Last week Martin wrote an article about the Pacers fight. To read it, Click Here.