How Bookmaker Got Started
Bookmaker.eu is the only gambling site servicing the US market with a sportsbook policy of no personal limit collars regardless of how much a player wins. Their history dates back to the birth of offshore sports betting starting with a gambling operation in the United States begun by Ronald Sacco, also known as the Cigar. His influence on Internet sports betting can't possibly be overstated. In fact, the man who is essentially the founder of Bovada got in the business in the 1990's after reading Ron Sacco's story. This is the story of the history of bookmaker.eu.
Ron "The Cigar" Sacco
Ron Sacco was born in 1943 in San Francisco and attended Balboa High School. His first of almost a dozen bookmaking arrests came when he was just a teenager. Back then, he was a runner who would hand off cash at bars and barber shops (including the one where his own father worked). Involved in gambling from a young age, Ron would turn out to be the largest bookie in the United States.
With over a half-dozen prior arrests for petty crimes related to gambling, Ronald Sacco was arrested in 1971 along with his associate, Ronald Noto. The two were given up by one of their phone-men who turned state witness over a federal investigation into organized crime. Sacco's prior arrests involved no charge, probation, and/or small fines. This time he had actually committed a felony, thanks to the Nixon administration's newly enacted Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. The law made it a federal offense to violate anti-gambling laws of any state. And just like that, what was once a petty crime landed him a 3-year prison sentence.
When Sacco was released from prison, he went right back to bookmaking. Again, this is all he knew since the time he was a teenager and he was very good at it. In fact, he was so good at it that from here on his bookmaking operation grew into the largest in the United States. Staying out of prison meant countless bribes and the fall of others, though this was Sacco's operation. When it came to sports betting, he was the man. He'd, however, soon make a mistake.
In 1985, Ron Sacco believed he had stumbled across a loophole. The Wire Act made it against the law to take bets from one state into another over any form of wire (such as telegraph or telephone). It also had a stipulation, however, that the law didn't apply to activity conducted from legal gambling venues. His loophole was to open a legal betting business in the Dominican Republic and have clients call in and place bets over the telephone. Believing he was legal, the company began placing small classified ads in newspapers and also purchasing advertisements in sports magazines. This was in addition to dozens of agents and runners handing out the phone number to clients.
The mistake Ron Sacco made was that while the betting was done over the phone, the cash was still paid and collected in the United States. In June of 1987, his right hand man Tony Ballestrasse and his girlfriend Marisa Lankester were arrested in Los Angeles. A week later, Sacco's nearby home was raided. For the second time, he was arrested, tried, and convicted for felony bookmaking.
Sacco didn't plea however: he believed his operation was legal. When convicted, he took it to appeal showing he was current with all taxes, and the records the police found were stored for Federal Income Tax compliance purposes and could not be used to incriminate him. This, in his opinion, was his 5th amendment right.
This defense was interesting. The appellate court ruled since the documents were required to run the day-to-day operation and were not stored in a box along with tax receipts. The evidence stood and his conviction was upheld. As a result, he had to serve his second 3-year prison sentence. Lucky for him, he was given an early parole in 1989 after serving 53 weeks.
In September of 1993, both Ron Sacco and his right hand man, Tony Ballestrasse, were arrested once again. This time it happened in the Dominican. While they were operating with a license to take sports bets, it only granted them the ability to take bets locally. Of course, there was an unstable government at the time, and a lot of cash was paid in bribes. Authorities, for years, knew what Sacco was doing. It was pressure from the US that led to the arrests.
Ron Sacco was deported as a non-desirable resident and turned over to US authorities. He was charged with running the United States' largest bookmaking business, processing over $1 billion (USD) in sports bets per year. This led to his third felony bookmaking conviction where he was handed a 68-month prison sentence. After serving over 3-years, he was paroled in May, 1998.
Costa Rica International Sports
Keep in mind the Ron Sacco's betting operation was massive: $1 billion per year in sports bets made him the largest bookie in the United States. There are countless stories about him funneling millions of dollars in credit card processing through pawnshop covers nationwide. He also infiltrated several banks, was linked to several police officers and elected officials, and was even named in the famous Pete Rose betting on baseball scandal. There was no chance his business was going anywhere during his prison stay. For a brief period, what was left of the bookmaking operation moved to San Francisco. When several more were indicted, they fled to Costa Rica.
Comprised of the Sacco operation that had been built since he was a teenager, in 1994 the company, Costa Rica International Sports (CRIS), was born. With Sacco in prison, this was initially run by an associate, Harry Craft. When he was pinched, others took over. Amazingly, this was such a large operation that no matter who was arrested, players were paid lightning fast. They also had a reputation for their willingness to take and pay any bet no matter how large or small.
Where the Line Originates
In the mid 1990's, the Sacco operation, now called CRIS, was gaining new competitors at a rapid rate. Guys with no history at all in sports betting were landing in places like Belize, Antigua, Venezuela, Dominican, Panama, and Costa Rica starting toll-free phone in shops and getting rich fast. In fact, the founder of BetMaker, Scott Barrett, showed up in Costa Rica broke with nothing but six credit cards to live on. A few years later, he sold the sportsbook he started for $20 million (USD). He was just one of many who got rich after Ron Sacco paved the way.
The team managing CRIS needed a plan. The company came up with: what if we can set the lines before Las Vegas? After mulling over how this would work and after developing a plan and testing it out, it came to be. They hired several handicappers, asking them what the line should be. After getting feedback, they'd decide on a number, open the betting action, and adjust as they took bets. Of course, the Las Vegas Sports Consultants (LVSC), who had previously done this job, didn't like the competition. It turned into a battle where each kept releasing lines earlier and earlier. After a while, CRIS started doing it for the following week while the 1PM games were still being played.
As the source for early lines, every bookmaker, even Las Vegas sportsbooks, would stay on the phone with various reps waiting for the line to be posted. As soon as the phone agent gave them a line, they'd either place a bet or say pass, and then be read the next line. CRIS became so famous and known for this that Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal helped tag a new slogan. He was, of course, the longtime manager of the Stardust sportsbook, the man depicted by Robert De Niro in the 1995 hit Martin Scorsese film Casino. During a media interview, Rosenthal was asked what he thought was the best offshore book. His casual response was "BetCRIS, this is where the line originates." This stuck and became their slogan. It's still featured to this day on their current website, www.bookmaker.eu.
BetCRIS.com Goes Online *Bookmaker.eu*
Ron Sacco was released on parole in November of 1998. Not one to wait to get back into the action, he paid who he needed to pay to get a new passport. In the US, he was Ronald Sacco, serving his remaining sentence on supervised release. A reasonable plane ride away to Costa Rica, he was Ronald O'Malley, an Irish-born man naturalized in Belize. Back in charge of his gambling empire, which remained the largest in the US, he'd eventually embrace the Internet. While initially against this, he was sharp enough to see that betting sites were the future. As a result, on April 8, 2000, the website BetCRIS.com was launched.
Ron Sacco Arrested - AGAIN!
In March 2002, a man was arrested in Peñas Blancas, Costa Rica near the border crossing to Nicaragua. He was found with two passports in his possession, one issued to Ronald Sacco of the United States and the other to Ronald O'Malley, Belize and, of course, both photos were the same. The US informed the local authorities that Sacco had been indicted in 2000 in San Francisco on bookmaking charges and was considered a fugitive. Days later, he was convicted of identity crimes, given a 10-year ban from returning to Costa Rica, and after a short prison sentence, was deported to the United States on the 4th of July, 2002.
This event actually did a lot to give credit to the man Ron "The Cigar" Sacco. Arrested nearly a dozen times, this was also the fourth time he would face a felony conviction. All the man ever did was run an honest bookmaking business. He paid all winners, took the highest stakes, and had the respect of all his peers. When he first started, this was only a petty crime that didn't even amount to fines given for speeding.
While Sacco had fought all previous charges, this time he came clean. In his sentencing report, it was revealed that he was supporting a wife and child in Costa Rica. He had cooperated with the FBI during investigations related to terrorism, weapons trade, human trafficking, and other more serious crimes on numerous occasions. He was current on his US child support, filed and paid his taxes, and had spent a decade of his life in prison over nothing more than sports betting. The probation office recommended a light sentence due to his cooperation with authorities that led to convictions and helped prevent much more serious crimes. He was given a 21-month sentence with 9-months credit for time served. The latter was full credit from the day of his Costa Rican arrest.
When Ron Sacco was arrested in 2002, the owner of Yabet.com, who used the alias Mickey Richardson, was recruited to run CRIS. After Ron Sacco's release from prison, Mickey was approved to be the CEO; for more than a decade now, he has run the operation that Ron Sacco started as a teenager in the early 1960's. This is the largest betting operation in the US market and continues to pay winners hassle- free.
In 2007, CRIS acquired a highly-desirable domain for SEO and branding reasons: bookmaker.com. However, in addition to betcris.com, the company already had dozens of brick and mortar betting shops, clubs, and casinos in legal South American markets under the name BetCRIS. They also had a contract with the Rwanda government to operate the state's betting monopoly. In other words, outside the US, BetCRIS was a huge corporate brand and fully legal. To use the new domain, CRIS made the strategic decision to separate and create a US variant. US players were moved to the bookmaker.com website, while all others continued to use betcris.com.
In 2011, dozens of US facing gambling sites had their domains seized by homeland security. Bookmaker has since used various domains, including bmaker.ag, before starting the .eu trend. Their current website is www.bookmaker.eu and is one of, if not the, safest websites for US players. These guys accept the largest limits and most likely process as many $10,000 bets as most gambling sites process the $10 ones. The chance of ever being stiffed with bookmaker.eu is next to nothing.
Ron Sacco Today
Ron Sacco is no longer with BetCRIS/Bookmaker. Upon his release, he initially remained a partner. When the United States was about to pass a new law called the UIGEA, he decided he had had enough. While most would suspect this was a cover, it was completely sincere. For a one-time sum, much smaller than the worth of the business he had built, Mickey Richardson bought him out.
As for the rest of the story, Ron Sacco is a legend to whom everyone working in the US gambling industry owes a great deal of thanks. After a long series of petitions, his 10-year ban from entering Costa Rica was overturned. Today he's close to both his US and Costa Rican family and is completely out of gambling. The sad news is that he has a number of health-challenges, and while he's still only 70, he perhaps won't be with us much longer. We at gamblingsites.org wish him all the best and send him a well-deserved "thank you so very much". There's no telling what the gambling industry might be like today had the man who grew and cultivated it not been such an honest man. So with that, Cigar, if you're reading this, we sincerely thank you!
Author: Jim Griffin
Updated: March 2015
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