Betting regularly on sporting events is a kind of social activity for those who play the game. It's big business for those who run the game.
Doctors, dentists and businesspeople are just a few of the professionals police say were laying down money in a Utah gambling ring. Many of the bets on professional and college sports contests were made in what police described as "country club" settings."This is white-collar crime in a sense," said American Fork Police Lt. Terry Fox. The ring, uncovered last month by law enforcement agencies in four counties, involved perhaps thousands of bettors nationwide and millions of dollars. Some were making five-figure bets on a daily basis.
"Bettors have the perception they aren't doing anything wrong," Fox said. Gambling, he said, is an addiction like alcohol or drugs.
Gambling is also termed organized crime. But in the Utah operation, the classic connotation of the term might not apply.
"It's organized crime. But is it Mafioso? Probably not. There's no evidence of that," Fox said.
American Fork police began probing the sports betting operation last fall. They later found that police agencies in Salt Lake, Weber and Carbon counties were investigating some of the same people.
No arrests have been made, but the U.S. attorney's office is examining evidence on 20 to 25 people who may be charged in connection with the gambling
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The ring in Utah wasn't structured as a hierarchy, Fox said. Rather, it was made up of a number of individual bet takers, or bookies, who worked with a particular list of clients, the bettors. Many of the bookies were familiar with one another, he said. The whole operation was backed financially by an individual known as the "bank."
"If you want to bet here in Utah, someone has to act like Las Vegas," said American Fork Police Sgt. Gary Caldwell. Nevada and Atlantic City, N.J., are the only places in the nation where gambling is legal. "Las Vegas bankrolls the whole United States," Caldwell said.
Once a person starts accepting bets from five people, he or she is, according to federal law, running an illegal gambling business. The bookie puts the word out by mouth and it's passed along in various social settings, police said. Most of the bets are taken over the phone.
While the bettors themselves might win now and again, the bookies are making the real money. Bookies take a 10 percent cut or "juice" from every bet they accept. But they have to maintain a balanced book to stay in the black.
Bookies do that by limiting the number of bets they accept. They also do it by manipulating the line on a particular game. If, for instance, a bookie is taking a lot of action on Team A favored to win by six, he will lower the point spread to encourage other bettors to go with Team B. Bookies also lay off clients' bets to other bookies or to the bank to cover any potential losses.
"As long as they balance their books, they can't lose," Fox said.
The money bookies make off the transactions is considered "dirty." They try to make it clean, or launder it, by putting it into a business. They also buy things that hold their value, such as gold, silver, diamonds and guns, Fox said.
Fox said bookies in the Utah operation weren't paid after individual bets were placed. Rather, they collected or paid out on a "payoff" day, which varied from bettor to bettor. Bookies kept detailed daily records on each bettor, sort of a running line of credit.
Bettors in the Utah ring, who were in all parts of the country, paid bookies in cash, by cashier's check and even by credit card, Fox said.
Bookies' records included the bettor's name, address and telephone number. It also set a person's betting limit and rated what kind of bettor the person was.