After over 20 people were arrested in connection to a Hells Angels-affiliated gambling ring in Ontario, cops are becoming more serious about cracking down on a growing league of organized betting circles. A buddy of mine was there to see the bust go...
How the police see the Hells Angels-affiliated Platinum Sports betting ring
It doesn’t take an interpretive genius to look at this Super Bowl party flier and recognize that it may have had some untoward hosts. Whether it’s the hellish-looking woman with angel wings, or the cartoonish depiction of the iconic "death head," it was essentially advertising itself as a Hells Angels shindig. But, hey, hindsight is 20/20.
The party was officially hosted by Platinum Sportsbook, an online gambling destination with offshore web servers and a Canadian headquarters. What makes Platinum unique is that although the website’s registration and servers are abroad, gamblers don’t have to wait for their winnings to come weeks later in the form of a check from Costa Rica or the Cayman Islands. Platinum deals locally and in cash.
To bet with Platinum, you’re first introduced to an agent. That agent is your bookie. They set you up with an account online, and you place all your bets electronically. However, when the real exchanges are made, you meet up, face to face, and the bookie gives you your winnings, or, if you lose, you pay up. If you don’t, debt collectors get involved.
Platinum’s eighth annual Super Bowl party was invite only and boasted an open bar, dinner, raffle prizes, and with a flier like that, I would hope, strippers.
Cops crashing what probably would have been an OK time
A buddy of mine—who didn’t want his name mentioned because he now knows that organized crime had organized the crime-funded event—had been placing bets on Platinum for some time and happened to be one of the 2,300 people who got an invite to Le Parc Banquet Hall in Markham, Ontario, to participate in the festivities. Here’s how he remembers it all going down:
“By the time you got in, it just hit you. There was so much shit going on. There was obviously a lot of money put into this place. There were girls everywhere; most of them hired. There were eight open bars, there were four or five banquet halls, and each hall was filled. There were computers set out for bets, all of the prizes were out, they had jet skis, plasmas, all kinds of electronics, motorcycles, a diamond Rolex… Obviously you had to buy raffle tickets for them, 50 bucks, which I did, and never got the money back by the way...
So, yeah, the game started, we get our first appetizer, and see a couple uniformed officers who are just walking around. Five or six officers walking around and you can tell they’re looking in everybody’s face, they’re holding up pictures, they’re looking for certain individuals… and so they ask us some questions… and then all of a sudden some more come in, one of them has a megaphone, and says, ‘We have a warrant to search the place, stay in your seats, we’re gonna come around’…
Everybody is screaming because they are interrupting the game. More officers walk in, and eventually, the feed of the game goes out. Everybody is yelling and a person comes over the PA system, obviously a guy who was running it, and says, ‘OK the cops are here, they have a warrant. Let them do their job, and they’ll get the fuck outta here. So cops, if you’re listening to me, do your search and get the fuck outta here.’
Eventually, it gets more and more serious. There’s cops with full tactical gear and riot gear. It gets pretty intense. So then everybody kind of heads toward the exit. As I’m leaving, I see cops everywhere, there must have been 300 of them. It was insane. They had full masks, body armor on, fucking machine guns. There was like, camouflage gear. It was basically out of a movie. News cameras there, I saw a few being arrested but they obviously weren’t there to arrest people who were just watching the game.”
Nothing suspicious about that winged skull logo. Nope.
So, he was a little perturbed to say the least. And although Platinum was shut down that night—and its website was replaced by this snazzy RCMP notice—similar Platinum websites were back up and running within a few hours, using servers based from Tokelau, a group of three tiny Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. Those websites have since been shut down as well, but I did find another one pretty easily that is either a part of the Platinum network or is simply a copycat: www.betplatinum.ag. The .ag suffix implied that the website is now coming out of Antigua and Barbuda.
Four hundred police officers were involved in simultaneously raiding the banquet hall and other locations throughout the greater Toronto area and southern Ontario that Sunday. In total, six people were charged with engaging in bookmaking, participating in a criminal organization, keeping a common gaming house, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offense. Two and a half million dollars in cash and 20 computers being used for placing bets were seized at the party. Then, just last week, police launched a fresh series of raids, seizing cash, cars, guns, and making more arrests—bringing the total number charged with involvement in the Platinum racket to over 20.
There's been a lot of hullabaloo over organized crime in Quebec, but this recent investigation has also gone to shown how alive and well it is in Ontario. Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Scott Tod described Platinum as a “marriage of the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang and traditional organized crime figures,” and a sample of the names shows the diversity of the backgrounds of those involved.
I’m no organized crime or multicultural expert, but there were definitely three different ethnicities in the mix, which brings three different popular organized crime groups to mind. You’ve got names like Mark Landon, which makes me think of the predominantly Anglo-Saxon Hells Angels, Nicola Vitantonio, Italian Mafia, obviously, and Bing Gao, a Chinese name—and the only Chinese organized crime group I’ve heard of in Canada is the Triads.
I got in touch with the media-relations representative of the RCMP’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit to try and find out more about how organized crime collaborates. I was interested in the dynamics of the relationships that these groups have with one another, as well as wanting to know, is organized crime in Ontario less active than in Quebec? Or is it just less prominent… And how will the forthcoming Toronto Casino impact the growth of organized crime and gambling in the province? After a few cordial conversations, I was sent a terse email explaining that they wouldn’t be commenting. I made another request, distancing my inquiry from the Platinum angle and received radio silence in return.
In an interview with the National Post, a Platinum client put it this way: “Nothing has changed. Police are making a fool of themselves. This book will never be shut down.”
Although a bill was introduced by an New Democratic Party parliament member to legalize betting on single sports events, which would take the money out of the pockets of organized crime and put it back into the government’s coffers, many in the MLB and NHL still staunchly opposed the proposition, arguing it would jeopardize the integrity of the games.
So, for now, if you’re into betting on single sports events, you’ll still have to keep going the Platinum route. Why not stop by the Hells Angels' new hangout? See if you can find yourself an agent. Just remember: never bet on your home team (too much emotion involved), and to pay the man ASAP, just in case you lose and want to keep your fingers and toes.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @ddner
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