PinnacleSports Sportsbetting Busts Include Links to Poker World
This week’s takedown by federal and state authorities of an interstate sportsbetting ring tied largely to offshore site PinnacleSports.com extends into the poker world, with two of the 25 indictees having significant ties to high-stakes poker and the WSOP. Those two, Steven Diano and Paul Sexton, are alleged to have supporting roles in the network, which was looked into as part of an 18-month federal investigation called Operation World Wide Wagers, and which included the FBI and state authorities in Nevada and New York, where the indictments were filed.
The big public figure among those arrested was the Cantor Gaming vice president Mike Colbert. Colbert 32, is listed in various pieces as Cantor’s sportsbook director and is described as a Cantor VP in documents connected to the arrests. Colbert ran his operation of Cantor’s seven sportsbooks from the M Casino, at the far southern end of Las Vegas Blvd. (the Las Vegas “Strip”), several miles south of the Strip proper.
Rumblings among sources close to the arrests stated that the sweep was tied to Pinnacle’s surreptitious use of “agents” to place bets, collect wagers and distribute winnings, which was confirmed when Pinnacle and several other sites were mentioned in a press release detailing the indictments. In addition to Pinnacle Sports, sites listed as connected to the crackdown included Jazz Sports, Play Here (alternately known as “GoPlayHere”), and Wager4You. All of the sites are headquartered in Costa Rica or Panama.
Alleged Pinnacle Sports owners Stanley Tomchin and George Molsbarger, both California residents, were among those arrested as part of the crackdown, along with a large number of alleged New York and New Jersey-based “bookmakers,” “agents” and “collectors,” some with direct ties, according to the District Attorney of Queens County (NY) release, to organized crime.
The complete list of authorities acting in concert in these raids was quite extensive, including the New York City Police Department’s Organized Crime Investigation Division,the FBI’s Asset Forfeiture Section, the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, the Monmouth County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office, the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Los Angeles Police Department.
A large amount of cash and casino chips were seized from homes and other locations connected to the operation. More than $2 million was seized from the eight Nevada men included in the indictments, including Colbert, Diano and Sexton, while the nationwide total of seized cash and chips added up to $7.6 million.
The group is alleged to have profited by more than $50 million during the 18 months covered by the investigation, from April of 2011 to October of 2012. More than 110 charges were filed against the defendants, with the charges generally including conspiracy, enterprise corruption and various degrees of money laundering.
Diano, a WSOP regular in regular years who is well-known around the Vegas scene, has notched seven WSOP cashes in various events 2005. Diano was listed as one of 15 “bookmakers” in the allegations. Cantor Gaming’s Colbert, by comparison, was described as an agent, working on behalf of the ring’s bookmakers. Cantor has also denied any official involvement with Colbert’s extracurricular activities, if so proven.
Paul Sexton, who is not related to famed poker pro Mike Sexton, but is instead related to fellow former minor FTP red pros Keith and Matt Sexton, was cited for being one of the collectors for the ring, whose duties in general (though not attributed directly to Sexton or anyone in particular) generally included relaying bets and winnings between customers and the sites’ agents and bookmakers, and may have included shuttling the money to and from the offshore, Central America headquarters.
Recent threads popping up various discussion forums indicate that Pinnacle Sports may be ceasing its unofficial US-facing operations, with unconfirmed reports suggesting that the accounts of US punters may be in the process of being closed. Pinnacle Gaming officially left the US space in 2007, but now appears to have been proven to have continued to have taken US bets through the widespread but unofficial “agent” network described in court documents.
The takedown continues a steady run by New York and New Jersey authorities in taking down at least one high-profile sportsbetting ring per year, with the mild surprise in this case being only that it was done relatively early in the football season, rather than just prior to the Super Bowl, when such raids traditionally occur.
Authorities also could not resist the related tradition of sneaking in at least one lame gambling quip in the process of announcing the arrests. According to NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, “The defendants in this case gambled and lost that their illegal activities would fly under the radar. I want to commend the NYPD detectives, federal agents and our out-of-state partners, who together with the Queens District Attorney’s prosecutors, brought these individuals to justice.”