BetOnline is a gambling site dating back to a bookmaking
business started in Rochester, New York in 1991. When it was
moved to Costa Rica in December of 2000, the first office wasn’t
much larger than a closet. Despite its humbling begins, they
went on to find the right partners and investments, assemble an
all-star cast, and grow into one the largest gambling sites in
the world. This is an account of their history.
Rochester New York Days to BestLineSports
Originally, the company started with a man best known as Joe
Junior who was booking bets from Rochester, New York in 1991.
While this was illegal, it was only so due to corporate interests.
America started with wagering on casino games, horse racing,
cockfighting, and bare-knuckle fights. It wasn’t until
professional sports began that an anti-gambling lobby got
underway. Federal laws against bookmaking were introduced in the
60’s, 70’s, and 90’s; these laws made the profession of Joe
Junior a crime.
Don’t get me wrong, Joe Junior was no stranger to crime. His
father was Joseph Fafone, a Gambino crime family associate known
by the nickname “Boca Joe.” The man was first arrested in 1971
for selling $200,000 worth of counterfeit $20 bills. A decade
ago, he hooked-up with a former mafia henchman who had recently
been released from prison; on their own, they got involved in
several cocaine deals which landed him there again. As for Joe
Junior, the only crime I’ve ever heard him involved with was
bookmaking and cleaning the money. In other words, he was just
an honest businessman who ran books.
Getting back on track, the Rochester, New York bookmaking
operation was rather small with only a handful of agents and money
collectors. Despite this, Joe Junior had his door busted down by
police a few times, and was charged twice. Tired of US law
enforcement, he eventually moved to Costa Rica where he rented a
tiny office. From here, his first online sportsbook was started
in February, 2001 using the URL bestlinesports.com.
There Were Other BetOnlines
The current BetOnline.com claims their history dates back to
1991. Even though Joe Junior is no longer with the company, what
we’ve uncovered so far is their alleged start. From February,
2001 through March, 2007 the current site was known as
BestLineSports.com, the dates they affirm. Before they became
BetOnline, there were two other companies using the same name.
The first was launched July, 8, 1998 as a partnership between
the UK’s Mirror Group and Press Association. Initially it was
located on the sub-domain, betonline.sporting-life.com, before
using the URL betonline.co.uk in September of 1998. (This
original BetOnline appears to date back to the UK betting site
now known as BlueSquare and has nothing to do with company under
discussion.) The other BetOnline actually used the domain name
betonline.com. This same group now owns 7redsports.com and
ezstreetsports.com. We will come back later to explain how
BestLineSports.com ended up becoming betonline.com. For now,
take note that neither of these other BetOnlines forms any part
of the BetOnline.com of today, nor have they ever been.
Joe Junior Takes on Partners
While BetOnline started as Joe Junior’s bookmaking business,
it grew into a huge operation with multiple partners. Initially
there was another US bookie who signed on in Costa Rica using
the pseudonym John Magnum. Over the years, this man has had more
names than we can count and even later served as the CEO of
BetOnline under another name.
John Magnum, as we’ll call him, has never been indicted by US
authorities, hence let’s stick to this name. Without
saying too much, in 1996 while at the age of 25, he started one
the first offshore sportsbooks targeting the US. His claim to
fame was personal touch. In the early days, no client could open
a betting account at his company without speaking to him
personally. He brought Joe Junior a massive list of clients, and
they soon relocated the business into the newly-built San Pedro
Mall. Later BestLineSports.com hooked up with a group of
investors that included another American with the initials E.D.
This group moved BestLineSports.com to Panama in May of 2004.
The change to BetOnline.com came about, in part, as a result
of BetonSports.com going out of business on August 11, 2006. One
of the largest sportsbooks servicing the US, it closed due to
federal indictments by US authorities and bankruptcy. Yet
another American, Dalton Wagner, was left without a home at
BetOnSports’ closing. He soon joined the company, presumably as
a partner/investor (although this hasn’t been confirmed).
What Dalton Wagner brought to the table were connections to
the BetOnSports staff, marketing department, and a massive list
of clients and agents. He, himself, had met the founders of
BetMaker, Scott Barrett and Mike Hale, in a poker game in
1998. They had come to Costa Rica with just six credit cards and
had sold their sportsbook for $20 million while wealthy and
debt-free. Impressed with their story, Wagner moved to Costa
Rica and started MVP Sportsbook.
There was no other association than the same software
provider, MVP, and it functioned and looked very similar to
today’s 5dimes.com minus the
reduced juice. He would end up selling this and his other
sportsbooks to BetOnSports.com while signing on to manage them
independently. When the company closed, he brought his client
lists and agent pay-per-head business to the BetOnline team, and
a slew of non-ownership BetOnSports staff followed.
Joe Junior Leaves the Company
Skipping ahead in the story of BetOnline’s history, Joe
Junior is no longer with the site. He was arrested at the
Rochester International Airport in October of 2009, the result
of an indictment that saw some 30 bookmakers, agents, and
runners of the pay-per-head side named.
There was a 38-month-long investigation the authorities
called “Operation Betting It All,” described as $20 million
dollar per month bookmaking operation linked to both the Gambino
and Genovese crime families. The silly thing is that authorities
investigated for 38-months and rarely got it right.
BetOnline had a pay-per-head side; and anyone, no matter who
they were, could access the software for a fee. No doubt they
got a bookie when nabbing Joe Junior, but the mafia ties were
quite weak. Anytime a PPH provider is busted, there’s no doubt some
crime family is a client. The media loves a good Martin Scorsese
Opinion aside, it’s important to note that at the time
BestLineSports.com became BetOnline, Joe Junior was one of many
partners. While he got the company started, much of the
remaining history barely includes his role. Furthermore, after
the Operation Betting It All arrests in 2009, all indicted
partners, including Joe Junior, were bought out. They aren’t
involved with the current BetOnline in any way shape or form.
Let’s rewind the story to late 2006.
UIGEA and BetOnline Domain Purchase
As mentioned in the intro, the company started offshore
working from a closest and grew into one the largest gambling
sites in the business. Forming an all-star cast (alluded to
above) was instrumental. They also became aggressive when others
in the industry were erring on the side of caution.
The first aggressive move BestLineSports.com made was amidst
the stormy waters following the United States passing the
Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). This law
which, signed by President George W. Bush on October 13, 2006,
made it a serious crime to have any involvement with the money
flow to and from illegal gambling sites. UIGEA literally
resulted in the closure of hundreds of gambling sites to the US
market out of fear. Seeing an opportunity, the BestLineSports
group purchased the highly-desirable domain name BetOnline.com.
The company that had been previously using it was struggling
financially as result of UIGEA and had just cleansed it by
moving their players to a new domain.
In April of 2007, BestLineSports.com closed, and all accounts
were moved to BetOnline.com. Their all-star cast of partners
comprised of affiliate gurus, marketing gurus, pay-per-head
experts, and agents with payment connections put pedal to the
medal. Almost immediately after becoming BetOnline, they began
advertising on every relevant gambling site known to man,
including SBR, the RX, Covers, G911, and EOG. They also
inaugurated an affiliate program offering $150 no-clear,
no-minimum deposit CPAs. Of course they also opened a
pay-per-head division led by Dalton Wager that brought new
agents on board.
BetOnline took a risk that most sportsbooks didn’t have the
expertise or tolerance to handle. They began offering clients
who desired it 105 reduced juice, while also setting some of the
highest betting limits in the industry. From here, they focused
on adding a ton of new markets such as
football propositions and alternate lines. They even
attempted to open the betting lines before Bookmaker/BetCRIS. As
you can learn in our article on
Bookmaker.eu history, this was a sick move. This company for
years had used the slogan “where the line originates,” and it
was far more than marketing hype.
In the long run, BetOnline aggressively did everything right,
taking huge risks, and even continuing after the April/May 2011
domain seizures of US gambling
sites. In what has been called Black Friday, on April 15,
2011, domains of the largest poker sites: PokerStars, Full Tilt
Poker, Ultimate Bet, and Absolute Poker were seized as were
several of their bank accounts and owners, key staff, and
payment processors. The companies were indicted by US
authorities, and of the four poker sites, only PokerStars.com
settled while the other three closed. In May of 2011, ten
sportsbooks had their domains seized.
Out of fear, many more gambling sites to the US market
closed. Several of those who tried to stick it out went
bankrupt. What did BetOnline do? The same thing they did after
UIGEA. They rushed out and hired a high-profile CEO, the woman
to whom Brett Favre allegedly texted penis shots to named Jenn
Sterger, to act as their spokesperson. They also hired the
existing head of the sportsbook.com affiliate team and another
long-time affiliate manager Simon Eaton, who had worked with VIP
Profits back in the day. Of course, they added poker to their
website and ramped up their affiliate program. The later
included sexy “we love US players” banners and increased
commission rates for established affiliates.
In short, BetOnline went from a tiny bookmaking business in
Rochester, New York to a closet-like office in Costa Rica to the
massive company in existence today. They assembled a great cast
of partners and made all the right moves, going all in while
others went scared. Has this proven to be a success? There’s no
company today with better exposure on affiliate portals or
Google search results than BetOnline. In May of 2012, they
purchased one of the oldest sportsbooks in the business:
Sportsbetting.com. This came a month after they purchased Bet
Eagle, the leader in pay-per-head operations. No doubt
BetOnline is one the largest companies in the business,
having a great track record with players. To test them out,
visit their new website located at www.betonline.ag.
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