Prosecutors Look to Keep Seized Assets in Collapsed Illegal Gambling Case
- Ontario government attempts to seize over $40 million in assets from illegal online gambling ring that allegedly earned $160 million over six years.
- The case against the alleged ringleaders mostly collapsed, with many facing fines or probation, but the government is trying to retain some of the money and property gained from criminal activities.
- Ontario recently moved to offer only regulated gambling but underground sports betting rings are nothing new, with similar operations seen in other countries.
A court battle is now underway in Ontario as the government looks to seize more than $40 million believed to be from an underground gambling ring. Authorities argue that the unregulated illegal online gambling operation earned $160 million during the scheme’s six-year lifespan.
“The hearing was the first of what will likely be several as the Crown attempts to keep money, silver, gold, jewelry, high-end vehicles and luxury homes seized from what police call the biggest illegal online sports gambling ring in Canada,” the London Free Press noted on Wednesday.
The attempt to secure the assets came after the case against the alleged ringleaders mostly collapsed. But now the government is at least trying to keep some of the money and property prosecutors argue was gained as a result of criminal activities.
A Look at the Case
The case dates back to 2019 when officials unveiled 228 charges against 28 people. This was the result of a two-year investigation of the alleged illegal gambling operation. Ontario police argued that the ring was the work of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang along with a Toronto crime family.
Law enforcement believe operators controlled 14 websites where bettors could wager on sports. The investigation included seizing $40 million in assets. Some of those arrested in the case faced charges such as illegal firearms possession, book making, commission of an offense for a criminal organization. Even a member of the Ministry of Transportation was caught up in the investigation and arrested.
Authorities seized 21 firearms, seven houses, two vacation properties, and 18 vehicles. That included three Harley Davidson motorcycles and two golf carts. Authorities also took control of gaming and gambling paraphernalia, debt ledgers, ammunition, and more. The seizures and arrests were the result of several agencies’ involvement including the Ontario Provincial Police.
“Police and partner agencies will continue to fully collaborate and aggressively target the ring leaders, their associates, and their lavish lifestyle to make our cities and towns safer,” OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said at the time, according to the Toronto Star.
Police allege one of the properties raided was used as a gaming house to store and exchange the operation’s profits.
Case Collapses, Seizing Assets
After the announcement of the investigation, many of the charges against those involved did not amount to much. Those believed to be in the upper ranks of the ring faced no real charges and many involved simply faced fines or probation.
One alleged suspect in the case was also murdered after the investigation, known as Operation Hobart. Another also faced an attempted murder as well. Delays in the case because of the pandemic apparently hampered the government’s efforts at prosecuting the case.
“The pandemic contributed to the delays in a complex case involving multiple accused and ‘voluminous’ amounts of disclosure documents, prosecutors said, praising the Ontario Provincial Police for conducting a ‘thorough and effective investigation,'” the Star noted.
Because of the case’s complexity, the length of a possible trial added to the issues faced by prosecutors. Experts estimate the entire case may have taken more than three years, extending beyond the legal requirements for a reasonable time for a trial, according to Canadian law.
Despite the case mostly unraveling, the government is now attempting to retain the assets seized as part of the case. Prosecutors argue that the assets should remain government property. Legal experts note that under Ontario law, seized assets do not have to show that a certain person committed a crime.
Instead, the government only has to show that the property was part of criminal activity. Some of those charged in the case are challenging that assertion.
Ontario Regulates Online Gaming
Offshore gambling is nothing new and some sites operate in a gray area as well. The alleged involvement of organized crime in this case appears to have attracted the attention of law enforcement however
Much of the online gaming industry has moved toward a regulated market in recent years and that includes Ontario. The province moved to offer only regulated casino gaming, sports betting, and online poker in April 2022.
Since that time, many of the largest online gaming companies in the world, like LeoVegas, have set up shop in Ontario. The province offers a large market for operators with major cities like Toronto and Ottawa, along with a population of more than 14.5 million people.
Underground sports betting rings are nothing new and this one was apparently large. In 2011, a ring based in Dallas, Texas, used a similar operation, utilizing offshore websites and call centers while settling up with bettors in cash. The betting scheme brought in tens of millions of dollars a year and was believed to be one of the largest in the U.S. when it was finally broken up by federal investigators.