Online Gambling Backed by Organized Crime

All that you need is a computer with an Internet connection to bet on just about any type of sport, throw a couple of bucks down on a horse, or even participate in a fully-functional online casino. Well, that was until late 2006 when Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Now you can still find Websites on the Net to take your bets but the question of their legal status remains in a gray area.

In addition to online action, gamblers in the know can usually find a local game of chance within the confines of their own neighborhoods. These are sophisticated operations and not to be confused with playing a game of cards for money with friends. In New York City it is believed that there are more than a few of these establishments serving clients twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Some of these illegal operations are backed by organized crime and in addition to the gambling feature of these businesses they also deal in the crimes of money laundering, and extortion. Such was the case when the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime Squad executed federal search warrants throughout New York City, and four other major cities throughout the country in association with an illegal gambling enterprise connected to the Russian mob.

In mid-April of this year, 34 individuals were indicted in the sting. The gambling ring appears to have accommodated Wall Street types, Hollywood stars as well as other wealthy clientele.

Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, who had been previously indicted for allegedly attempting to bribe 2002 Winter Olympics officials, is named in the indictment as a leader in the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization. “The Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization was an international organized-crime group with leadership based in New York City, Kiev and Moscow, and that operated throughout the United States,” the indictment said.

Earlier last month, William Barbalat, 42, admitted to hosting illegal underground poker games in his apartment, as well as helping facilitate wire transfers to players in different states. He could face up to 10 years in prison for the crime. He is free on bond until his sentencing in December. Barbalat is the second defendant to plead out. Bryan Zuriff, 44, the executive producer of Showtime’s drama, “Ray Donovan,” last month copped to running a sports book out of Los Angeles. Molly Bloom, who’s been linked to card sharks such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Alex Rodriguez, Tobey Maguire and Matt Damon, was arraigned on Friday on charges of running a Russian mob-associated poker ring.

This week two more defendants pleaded guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to participating in the ring. Edwin Ting and Justin Smith pled guilty on Sept. 4 in Manhattan federal court to their respective roles in the high-stakes illegal gambling businesses. Ting ran a high-stakes illegal poker game in New York City from 2010 through 2013. At these games, the pots frequently reached tens of thousands of dollars or more. The operators of these games, including Ting, collected percentages of the pots known as “rakes.” These poker games employed at least five or more people to assist with the operation of the games, payments of debts, and collection of debts.
Smith assisted Hillel Nahmad, Illya Trincher, and others in operating their own high-stakes sportsbook in New York that catered to millionaires and billionaires. Those clients typically placed bets online through various accounts maintained on gambling websites that were operating illegally in the United States. Tens of millions of dollars in bets were placed through those online accounts each year had a part in the sportsbook operations. In the original 34-defendant indictment members and associates were charged with various crimes, including racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and various gambling offenses.

Ting and Smith each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and three years of supervised release. As part of his plea agreement, Ting agreed to forfeit $2,000,000 to the United States. As part of his plea agreement, Smith agreed to forfeit $500,000 to the United States. Ting and Smith are both scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Furman on January 7, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., respectively.

Ting and Smith are the fourth and fifth defendants to plead guilty in the case. The following defendants have previously pled guilty and will also be sentenced by Judge Furman:

Bryan Zuriff pled guilty on July 26, 2013, and is scheduled to be sentenced on November 25, 2013, at 3:00 p.m.

William Barbalat pled guilty on August 14, 2013, and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 16, 2013, at 3:30 p.m.

Kirill Rapoport pled guilty on August 16, 2013, and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 18, 2013, at 3:00 p.m.

One question that many online gamblers ask themselves is quite simple to ask but difficult to answer – is online gambling legal in the USA? This question is one of overwhelming difficulty to answer as online gambling is trapped in a grey area of the law. The industry is also always evolving, thus further complicating the situation on a whole. If you ever intend on gambling over the Internet you will probably want to be aware of these laws, as personal protection is essential for keeping yourself free out of the eyes of the law.

As with any possible crime, which we assure you that you’re not committing while gambling online, you will first want to look on the federal level. In the current legal atmosphere, online gambling is not federally banned. So on a federal level; to the individual at least, the answer to is online gambling legal in the USA is yes. Unfortunately, it is not as clear cut as a yes or no answer. In truth, federal regulations have made it illegal for banks and other payment processors to process transactions related to online gambling. To reiterate – online gambling is legal for the American player, though for the American financial institution or owner of the gambling site, operating within the United States remains illegal.

So what, you might ask, does this mean for you? Simply put, this just means that you will be required to work around this restriction. Though some brands of online gambling have decided not to work with American players, there are still plenty of online gambling locations to be enjoyed by Americans. Most of these online gambling locations require you to find alternative ways of funding your account, as most banks have begun to cease processing the transactions related to online gambling. Though this is inconvenient, the fact of the matter is that there will always be a way to send your funds into the Legal Gambling site, so never fear, as there is an option for everyone.

While the short answer is definitely yes, US players are allowed by law to play poker at a Sportsbook, it is important for players to understand the legalities of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and why all of these sudden poker shut downs occurred in the first place, according to www.mypokerbasics.com

Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer who has tried a multitude of cases throughout his 35 year career. He has offices in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Florida and is a member in good standing of both the New York and Florida Bars. He is also admitted to practice law in the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York and the Eleventh Circuit which includes the State of Florida.

To read about Mr. Cohen honors and qualifications, please click here.

Mr. Cohen is also listed in the 2014 edition of “Best Lawyers in America

To contact Mr. Cohen in the tri-county area of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties in South Florida, contact him at 954-928-0059 or 561-366-8200.