Legal online wagering advocates like to say regulated apps will supplant illegal, offshore gambling sites. On Wednesday, proof of the claim’s validity showed up in a Brooklyn courtroom, where “an indictment was unsealed charging six defendants for their roles overseeing and operating a large-scale illegal, online gambling business under the protection of the Lucchese organized crime family.”
Thus, Rhino Sports became a footnote in New York sports betting history.
Instead, the gambling operation that was in business from “at least” 2004 to December 2020 is replaced by headlines like these:
- New York Gains $302 Million in Tax Revenue in First Six Months of Mobile Sports Betting
- New York Sports Betting Leads the way as NFL Week 1 Brings Record 100 Million Geolocation Checks
Even the geolocation provider, Vancouver-based GeoComply, said the same of offshore gambling.
“It’s a major defeat for the black market as bettors flock to the regulated sector,” GeoComply wrote on LinkedIn six days ago.
One area of online gambling regulation remains unfinished in New York. Online casino and poker aren’t yet legal.
However, State Sen. Joseph Addabbo promises to return to the issue in 2023. Addabbo, who’s advocated for New York online casino legalization for years, is seeking reelection in November.
Offshore Gambling Site Had New York Roots
The announcement on Wednesday about the unsealed indictment reads like every popular mafia movie.
“Luchese [sic] crime family soldier” Anthony Villani had $407,000 in cash, brass knuckles, and gambling ledgers in one of his residences, according to the Department of Justice US Attorney’s Office Eastern, District of New York.
Villani, 57, of Elmsford, is one of only two defendants without nicknames.
Charges of racketeering and money laundering related to the offshore gambling enterprise are also pending against:
- James “Quick” Coumoutsos, 59, from the Bronx
- Dennis Filizzola, 58, Cortlandt Manor
- Michael “Platinum” Praino, 44, also from the Bronx
- Louis “Tooch” Tucci Jr., 59, Tuckahoe
“The Gambling Business was hosted online using offshore servers in Costa Rica and employed local bookmakers to pay and collect winnings in cash,” reads the tale about the shut down offshore gambling site, Rhino Sports. “Records obtained from the Gambling Business’s website indicated that Villani’s illegal gambling operation regularly took bets from between 400 and 1,300 bettors each week, most of whom were based in New York City and the metropolitan area.”
All but Praino were arraigned on Wednesday by US Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann.
“A fifth defendant, bookmaker Michael Praino, was arrested in West Palm Beach, Florida, and will make his initial appearance tomorrow morning in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida,” Wednesday’s announcement said.
Officials Say This Offshore Gambling Site Isn’t the Only Lucchese Crime
US Attorney Breon Peace says his office will continue to root “La Cosa Nostra out of New York.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll adds:
Members of the mafia are not giving up the tried and true methods of criminal behavior, even in the face of the burgeoning world of legal gambling. As we allege, a Luchese [sic] soldier and other family members ran an illegal gambling operation and offered their clientele the same twisted customer service: do what they say or face terrifying consequences.
Villani received more than $1 million a year from Rhino Sports, part of which arrived as US Postal Service money orders “disguised as rent payments” for one of his properties, the press release says.
It appears as though part of the offshore gambling site’s downfall may have come from threatening the wrong gambler.
The US Attorney’s Office says:
Between April 2020 and October 2020, Villani is alleged to have attempted to extort an individual identified as John Doe in the indictment, including by telling John Doe: “I’m telling you right now, you don’t get this money – [expletive] run away.”
It’s unclear if the “attempted extortion” involved brass knuckles.