Six men have been charged with offences relating to an alleged multimillion-dollar illegal online gaming operation after police busted a huge Super Bowl party at a banquet hall in Markham, Ont.
The Sunday evening raid targeted Platinum Sportsbook, a Canadian-run offshore sports betting website whose operators have ties to organized crime, police say.
The accused organized an invitation-only Super Bowl party and turned Le Parc, a Markham banquet hall, "into an illegal gaming house," said York Regional Police Superintendent Paul Pedersen. Some 2,300 people attended the event.
"I want to be clear that this event last night was not open to the public. Online gaming in this fashion is not available to anyone. Only those invited by the organizers of this criminal enterprise could attend and only those sponsored by this criminal organization could participate in the website," he said.
Charged are William Miller, 49, Arno Thomsen, 45, and Shlomo Buchler, 40, all of Toronto; David Hair, 44, and Andrew Bielli, 48, both of London, Ont.; and Martin Spruce, 45, of Vaughan, Ont.
All six are charged with engaging in bookmaking, participating in a criminal organization, keeping a common gaming house and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. They are scheduled to appear in court in Toronto on March 21.
"The focus of this investigation is on those principals that are profiting, not those using the gaming site," Supt. Pederson said.
Supt. Pederson said the party also featured illegal raffles for "crime-related property," including motorcycles and Sea-Doos, which were seized by police. Officers also seized about 20 computers "directly connected to offshore gaming," as well as cellphones and business records, he said.
More than 400 police officers also executed nine other search warrants at the men's homes and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area and as far away as London, Ont. They seized almost $2.5-million in cash, some of which was contained in a large safe.
On Sunday night, the Platinum SB website had been blocked by police. A note says: "The website you are trying to access has been restrained by court order granted to the Attorney General of Ontario with the assistance of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU)."
However, an archived version of Platinum SB's website shows the company's logo features a skull that is similar to the Hells Angels distinctive "death head" insignia. Police said the site had been in operation for years.
As of early Monday morning, the website registered 17,000 hits from "illegal gamers trying to collect on their bets," Supt. Pederson said. The customer service line, which has been redirected to the RCMP, has also received hundreds of calls.
The website allowed users to bet on a long list of sports, including baseball, basketball, golf, horse racing, mixed martial arts and auto racing. While police said the website is based in Costa Rica, the site says it is incorporated in Willemstad, Curaçao and Nicosia, Cyprus.
One man who witnessed the police raid at Le Parc said attendees were watching the game on giant screens and waiting for dinner.
Shortly after the first quarter, "all the cops came in," said the man, who did not want his name published. "They shut down the bar, went through the crowd, stopped at some tables and read a warrant with a megaphone."
The witness couldn't hear the details of the warrant but said he saw one man being arrested who was wearing a sweatshirt with a Hells Angels logo. Other party-goers also wore Hells Angels colours, the witness said.
He said that, after a second arrest, as the crowd grew antsy, the game video feed was turned off and management began evacuating the hall. As he left, he saw a man being searched, the man said.
There were 30 to 50 officers, some from a tactical unit, in full gear, with helmets, black balaclavas, body armour and automatic weapons. Several officers were posted at each entrance and police vans waited outside.
With a report from The Canadian Press