Image via WikipediaIn past decades, gamblers occupied phone booths on Sunday mornings to call in their football bets to bookies working the phone in "wire rooms."In 2010, most phone booths are gone -- and so are many of the workers on the other ends of the phones.
Illegal sports betting has not gone away, but it is now largely in the realm of the Internet, where bets from gamblers in Albany, Schenectady and Troy get processed in places thousands of miles away.
When gamblers placed bets on NFL and college games this past weekend, their wagers most likely landed overseas.
"It has moved into the computer era," said Inspector John Burke of the Albany County Sheriff's office. "We just have to keep up with it."
In 2008, the Internet was at the center of the largest gambling case in the history of Albany County. That April, an 18-month criminal probe by Burke's unit and Albany County prosecutors uncovered a $56 million sports betting ring inside the private Veteran Friendship social club on Route 9 in Latham. Its kingpin -- identified as now-65-year-old George Bedigian, a quadriplegic from Syracuse -- was convicted of gambling promotion. He served nearly 10 months in state prison.
In court papers, prosecutors said the Syracuse-to-Albany crew used a website based in Costa Rica -- www.linewiz.com -- to track bets from customers. Bedigian acted as a "master agent" who handled betting action on his own account. In turn, he authorized additional "agent" accounts for bookies in the Albany and Syracuse areas, who kicked up proceeds to Bedigian. Authorities said the operator of the Latham club, co-defendant Joseph "Oink" Carucci of Latham, alone had 70 customers.
Bettors would receive a code, place their bets online and make payments or accept collections in the social club, authorities said.
The Syracuse-linked ring was not the first time an outside entity became involved in local gambling, though in past years bookies risked more than prosecution.
Beginning in 1983, Springfield, Mass.-based mobster Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno orchestrated the violent "takeover" of the Capital Region's gambling rackets for a faction of New York's Genovese crime family based in the western Massachusetts city. Bruno and reputed associates visited Albany-area bookmakers and organized them -- "sometimes by threat," according to FBI documents obtained by the Times Union.
But on Nov. 23, 2003, as Bruno exited a Springfield social club, a man approached and reputedly said, "Hey, Al, I heard you were looking for me" before executing the 57-year-old Bruno, firing six shots from a .45-caliber handgun. This year, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged several defendants, including high-ranking Genovese figures, in the hit.
Just days after his murder, Massachusetts authorities said Bruno was to have been indicted in connection with a Web-linked gambling ring using offshore accounts.
Across New York state and beyond, several betting rings busted by authorities have been linked to organized crime -- and the Internet. In May, New Jersey investigators charged a 61-year-old Buffalo man with running offshore gambling rackets for the New York City-based Lucchese crime family, including a room in San Jose, Costa Rica, in which 20 workers processed wagers over the phone. Last October, Queens prosecutors charged 20 defendants from Rochester to Nevada with running an allegedly mob-connected ring that took in $567 million over 28 months and used an offshore account in Panama.
Authorities say computers ease the workload for bookmakers and create less of a risk. "It's much less localized," said Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy. He said his office is conducting a number of sports-betting cases -- all tied to the Internet -- and that they've seen a "very organized systematic betting pyramid" in which locals take bets through one general bookie via computers.
It's the bookies -- not bettors -- who face possible charges under New York state law. The National Football League season and college basketball's "March Madness" represent the hottest times for illegal gambling, Murphy said.
State Police Investigator John Dorn of the Special Investigations Unit, which probes gambling, said a 2006 Internet gambling law has actually helped bookies. He noted it prohibits betting with a credit card overseas, which leaves it in the hands of illegal "super agents" with offshore accounts.
James Taylor, a supervisor with the Special Investigations Section of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, said certain figures banned from casinos have since relocated to Costa Rica. Randall Sayre, a member of the board, which regulates gambling in Las Vegas, said while computers leave an electronic trail for investigators, criminal cases are made difficult because of jurisdiction issues.
"I think the day of the 'wire room' is diminishing -- the Internet product has grown and, at least what I see, has pretty much replaced that," he said. "It's fast. It's convenient."