The Empire Slate: Feds Take Down Illegal Mafia Gambling Operation

Also, a cheating scandal, local NFL action, and Aaron Judge's season for the ages
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“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at gambling-related news, betting angles and trends involving New York sports.

In case anyone still needed a reminder that illegal gambling markets aren’t worth the risk, there’s this:

On Wednesday, a federal court in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment filing charges against six men prosecutors say were operating a “large-scale illegal, online gambling business under the protection of the Lucchese organized crime family,” per the press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The feds say the illegal business operated for more than 15 years under the name “Rhino Sports,” and it utilized an offshore website and dozens of bookmakers in the New York area to take millions of dollars in illegal sports bets. New York legalized mobile sports betting on Jan. 8 of this year, but the bookies who operate in the shadows are still lurking.

Anthony Villani, described in the release as a “Lucchese crime family soldier,” and associates Louis Tucci Jr., Dennis Filizzola, and James Coumoutsos were arrested at their residences in the New York area and arraigned Wednesday afternoon. A fifth defendant, described as a bookmaker named Michael Praino, was arrested in West Palm Beach, Florida, and was scheduled to appear before the court Thursday morning. Apparently, the sixth defendant hasn’t yet been arrested, because there is no mention of his name in the release.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.

That’s true, but with no customers, there would be no business. As this case shows, it’s time for New Yorkers to stop utilizing neighborhood bookies and sign up for regulated sports betting. You never know who is behind a black-market operation, and there are some people to whom you really don’t want to owe money.

Police nab alleged card cheats

Sticking with law and order for a moment, there was another cautionary tale this week that soon will involve the courts and might involve some hefty jail time for a trio of alleged cheaters.

Authorities at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, based on surveillance video, began suspecting that one of the casino’s blackjack dealers was showing a couple of customers her cards. They called the cops and soon the dealer, Emily M. Torres, 20, of Lackawanna, was in handcuffs. So were Mark M. Watson, 28, of Buffalo, who won $5,300 before the cops busted it up, and Rahat Hossain, 34, of Buffalo, who won around $2,200.

The three are charged with felony gaming fraud, a class E felony, which carries a prison term of up to four years. They also had to pay back the money they “won” and are permanently banned from the casino.

Are the Bills overhyped this week?

Coming off their extremely impressive 31-10 win over the Rams to kick off the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills, long the Super Bowl favorites, continue to draw heavy action. After opening as 7-point favorites, the Bills are now 10-point favorites (at DraftKings and other sportsbooks) over the Tennessee Titans for Monday night’s game at Highmark Stadium.

As much as there was to like about Thursday’s performance, which was virtually everything, there is evidence that jumping on the bandwagon in Week 2 could be a mistake. Gilles Gallant at Action Network points out that teams that win by double digits in Week 1 tend to be weak favorites the following week, while teams that get blown out can offer great value. Since the start of the 2014 season, teams that lost by 10 points or more the first week have covered the spread 60.7% of the time in Week 2. Those teams even won straight up 45.9% of the time.

Hence, one of the best ways to lose money is to overreact to Week 1.

Jets might be worth a look

We’ve already looked in this space at how the New York Jets might be a sucker bet when it comes to futures wagers, but that may not be the case for their game this weekend.

The Jets, who are getting 6 points at many places but 6.5 at FanDuel, fit the criteria Gallant mentioned against the Browns after their ugly 24-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday.

The other teams that were beaten by 10 points or more and could be in line for a bounce-back: the New England Patriots (-1.5 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers), the Green Bay Packers (-10 vs. the Chicago Bears), the Arizona Cardinals (+5.5 vs. the Las Vegas Raiders), the Dallas Cowboys (+7.5 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals), and the Rams (-10.5 vs. the Atlanta Falcons).

Did Aaron Judge just lock up the MVP?

The books seem to think Aaron Judge has the AL MVP award locked up. When Judge hit his 56th and 57th home runs of the season to help the Yankees beat the rival Boston Red Sox Tuesday night, he didn’t just get closer to breaking Roger Maris’ team record for home runs in a season (61), he moved lines.

Shohei Ohtani had been gaining a little bit of support in the American League MVP race given a five-game homerless drought for Judge (as if five games is a long time not to hit a ball 450 feet). But after Tuesday’s monster performance, Judge may have all but clinched the award now that fewer than 20 games remain in most teams’ seasons.

FanDuel responded by moving Judge’s MVP odds all the way to -1450, before another change to -6000, where they stood Thursday morning. BetMGM had him at -5000, while DraftKings was offering him at -2000. Something tells us that last line is soon to change even more, and PointsBet responded to the two-homer game by prematurely paying out all Judge MVP futures.

Considering Judge entered the season at +1500 for the award, congratulations to anyone who got him at that price.

Photo: Shutterstock

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