|Offshore Internet sports books remain a source of controversy due to the US ban on placing bets with them, but here’s an example of an alleged violation of the wire act involving nothing more high-tech than a vivid imagination.|
George Atiyeh, accused of running a sports betting business, allegedly told his employees to pretend they were on a Caribbean island while talking to bettors on the phone, even though they were in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a former employee testified Thursday.
The testimony of ex-employee Keith Varga could show that Atiyeh ran the business from Pennsylvania, knowingly violating state and federal laws.
Antiyeh’s business was licensed in Antigua, and had at least one representative there. However, obtaining a similar license in Pennsylvania would be legally impossible.
Varga, 40, testified that Atiyeh hired him to work in Allentown for International Casino, owned by Atiyeh. As a marketing employee, his tasks included placing magazine advertisements to promote the sports betting business. Such tasks presumably would be legal, if the betting was done outside the United States.
But, according to Varga’s testimony, he was directed by Atiyeh to make payouts to winners several times a week from Allentown.
Varga always bought less than $3,000 in money orders because otherwise he would have to fill out a tax form, he testified. Instead, he said, he went to another post office to buy additional money orders when he needed to buy more than $3,000 worth.
Though most bets were taken by one of Atiyeh's employees in Quebec, employees in Allentown also would occasionally take bets when no one was available in Quebec, according to Varga. The calls would automatically be forwarded to Allentown, Varga said.
If the bettor asked about the weather in the Caribbean, Varga was instructed by Atiyeh to describe the weather as warm and breezy, according to Varga's testimony. No bets were ever taken in Antigua, Varga said.
Atiyeh's business allegedly took in more than $1 million during a 14-month period from 1995 to 1997 as people placed bets on sporting events, especially football.
Atiyeh's trial has echoes of another trial18 months ago. Last year, Atiyeh’s brothers, Joseph and Dennis, were cleared of similar charges.
After leaving International Casino, Varga operated his own Pennsylvania-based sports betting business, 21st Century Sports Wagering, in 1997 and 1998. Because of that business, he pleaded guilty in federal court to illegal gambling and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
In last year's case, defense lawyers acknowledged Dennis Atiyeh ran a gambling enterprise but they denied that any bets were accepted in Pennsylvania. Dennis Atiyeh's business was licensed in Jamaica.