The legalization of gambling, both across the globe and state-by-state in the US, has been one of the biggest cultural shifts of our generation. It’s one that is still ongoing, but there’s no doubt that both legally and culturally, placing a wager at the card table or spinning the reels on a slot machine is becoming more accepted as a leisure activity.
That’s not to say the days of illegal gambling are completely consigned to the pages of history, however. Any industry that involves cash transactions will inevitably be a target for criminal activity, and multi-million dollar busts are all part of casino folklore. Here, we take a look at three of the biggest – at least, so far.
Luxury gambling den hiding in plain sight
Most of us picture illegal gambling dens as seedy clubs located behind unmarked doors in the less salubrious parts of town. But last year, Project End Game involved a raid on one of the most opulent properties in the Toronto area and shut down what police described as a “high-end illegal casino” operating from a 20,000 square foot mansion in Markham. As well as seizing more than $1 million in cash, police also confiscated gambling machines, gaming tables and even a cache of firearms and ammunition.
Authorities said the property was offering accommodation, spa treatments and luxury dining to its wealthy guests. After making a series of arrests, police have formally charged 29 people with a total of 74 criminal offences. Deputy Chief Brian Bigras told a news conference that the offenders mistakenly believed that their wealth and influence meant that they were “above the law.”
The $850 million cyberspace bust
Today, online casinos are just as popular as land-based ones. But here, too there are illegal gambling operations taking place in the shady corners of cyberspace. Given that there are literally thousands of playable casino sites out there, it is no real surprise that not all of them are on the up and up. One such online ring was busted in Vietnam last year, and resulted in 21 arrests.
The operation was masterminded by a Hanoi-based couple in their 20s, who also had accomplices in Saigon. They used offshore servers to provide illicit casino games to Vietnam gamblers, communicating through social media and channeling funds through personal bank accounts and top up cards. Police told local new sources that in the 15 months it operated, the gambling ring generated VND20 trillion, equivalent to more than $850 million.
Everything’s bigger in Texas
Both of the above are small fry compared with what is surely the biggest gambling bust of all time. It took place in Texas back in 2013 and was the culmination of a decade-long investigation by law enforcement officers from both state and federal agencies. It concerned an enterprising soul by the name of Albert Reed Jr, a 57 year old who suddenly found SWAT officers descending on his luxury home in the desirable Dallas suburb of Southlake. He had worked in partnership with a number of respected retirees from the Texas business community in processing more than $5 billion in illegal wagers.
The men had set up an entire online network, comprising 25 different gambling sites operating on the dark web, where their members could log in and place bets, predominantly on sporting events. Proceeds were all routed through a Curacao entity they had set up called Global Internet Corporation. The bust resulted in 17 arrests, but only Reed Jr faced a custodial sentence. However, property and assets with a combined value of $10 million were confiscated.