Thursday, August 22, 2013

Texas Sportsbetting Sting Cites Gregg Merkow, 17 Others

Prominent Texas poker pro Gregg Merkow was among 18 defendants named in a major sportsbetting sting which took place in Texas, and which was announced to the public in a press conference at which more than $4.7 million in seized proceeds was awarded to the city of Plano, where much of the illicit activity is alleged to have taken place.

According to several reports from local Texas outlets and the USAO's recent presser, the investigation into the ring stretched over a decade, beginning in 2001 and having major developments in March of 2011, when search warrants were executed against participants in the operation.  The investigation continued on from there, with the defendants being indicted last summer.

The size of the gambling ring was significant, according to reports.  In addition to live bets being accepted throughout the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, where the ring was centered, authorities allege that more than $5.4 billion in gross wagers were made through more than two dozen interconnected online sportsbetting sites in a little more than four years.  All the sites were incorporated and maintained in Curacao.

Merkow was reported as being a bookie for the group, and may well have served as investigators' access point, who in the sting's earliest phase were looking into another, smaller operation.  The good news for Merkow and the others is that most of them received only probation or a suspended sentence, except for the ring's leader, Albert Sydney Reed, Jr.,  Reed received a sentence of one year plus one day.

Merkow isn't due to be sentenced until December, but is likely to receive probation or a suspended sentence.  The real hit to Merkow and the others was the seizure of more than $10 million in cash and other assets alleged to be connected to the operation.  In Merkow's case, he lost the $233,000 that he claimed in an appeal was his poker-playing bankroll, along with jewelry and gold coins, including at least one family heirloom.

Merkow, who won a WSOPC event at Tunica in 2005 for more than $570,000, defeating Amnon Filippi for the win, has about $1.5 million in career tournament earnings.  His attempt to claim his seized funds back from authorities was mentioned in this 2012 KXAN piece, where they reported, "I am a professional poker player and have been for a number of years. In order to participate in this profession, it is necessary to have a cash hoard which is accessible on short notice ... Part of the money is my cash hoard which I have accumulated over the last 20 years or so."

Despite the fact that Merkow kept poker-playing records, such claims usually fall on deaf ears, as happened with Richard "Chinaman" Lee, who finished sixth in the WSOP main event and lost an even larger chunk of assets when authorities in San Antonio busted up a sportsbetting operation there several years ago.  Merkow thus gets added to the lengthy, lengthy list of prominent poker players who have had bookmaking-related scrapes with the law.  In this case it's a quarter-million-dollar life tax, right?
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