Gambling and the mob

One question I get a lot is, “When did the mob leave Las Vegas?” I usually answer that organized crime is present in every major American city (and probably every major city in the world), so it is still here.

As I’ve said before, the idea of the mob “controlling” Las Vegas was and is a bit simplistic. Certainly several people involved with organized crime (Meyer Lansky, most significantly) had hidden interests in Strip casinos, but did “the mob,” as an entity, systematically acquire, build, and control the major resorts of the Strip? I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure, but it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory to me, the sort of thing that is not falsifiable–can you prove that a secret cabal of mobsters DIDN’T control Las Vegas?

So I was interested to read a story in the Star-Ledger about sports betting (which is in the headlines so much these days) and organized crime:

One operation served working-class clients in North Jersey. The other sprouted in the state’s southern end and catered to millionaire athletes.

But police say the two disparate gambling rings dismantled this month shared an attribute: organized crime.

The multimillion-dollar betting operation run by a state trooper and former NHL star Rick Tocchet had ties to the Bruno/Scarfo crime family in Philadelphia, according to the State Police. And Bergen County prosecutors said a reputed Genovese family solider oversaw a sports book that processed $1 million or more a week in bets.

When it comes to illegal sports wagering, experts say, it’s a safe bet the mob is involved.

“They may get involved in more lucrative schemes here and there, but the day-in and day-out rent is paid by the gambling,” said Kevin McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who headed the U.S. Attorney’s organized crime strike force in New Jersey.

The takedown of both rings was the latest proof that, even with the proliferation of legalized gambling and online wagering, the mob’s stranglehold on sports gambling remains intact.

These days, the agent said, some of the sophisticated rings are following the lead of corporate America. “They’ve outsourced some of their labor,” he said.

Instead of shelling out thousands each month to rent and protect an apartment in the Northeast, such groups are paying meager fees for wire rooms and phone banks in places like Costa Rica, where the gambling is legal and the bookmaking operations go unnoticed.

Still unclear is how the explosion of online betting will affect traditional bookmakers.

“The mob doesn’t like competition and those groups provide easy competition,” said McCarthy, the former prosecutor who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “The mob lost control of Las Vegas. I think the same thing might happen in sports betting.”
Gambling busts show mob is still a big player

I’m not privy to the same kinds of data as those involved in law enforcement are, but I imagine that Antigua would probably take exception to the claim that bookmaking is “unnoticed” there. In fact, the Antiguan government filed suit against the United States to force the recognition of its online bookmaking.

As I said in Cutting the Wire, the whole illegal gambling/organized crime problem boils down to a fundamental ambiguity: if placing wagers isn’t a crime, but profiting from accepting them is, there isn’t much of a stigma attached to the business of illegal betting. Coupled with the fact that most citizens would prefer to see finite resources directed against higher-priority targets (terrorist groups at the top of the list), and it’s easy to see why illegal gambling flourishes.