California Authorities Take down a Massive Illegal Gambling Ring

Federal authorities dismantled a massive illegal gambling operation earlier this month which they say laundered over $10 million through California card rooms, Las Vegas casinos and a bail bond business.

Agents affected simultaneous raids in several locations last month, seizing $600,000 from player accounts and bank accounts at the Seven Mile Casino in Chula Vista and the Palomar Card Room in San Diego alone.

The main target of the investigation was David “Fat Dave” Stroj, who authorities say used an extensive network of couriers, business managers and affiliates to take sports bets from clients in Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Las Vegas, Florida, South Carolina, Toronto, Tijuana and Canada.

In total, 25 people were indicted and face charges ranging from prostitution to illegal gambling.

The group allegedly ran a network of private high-stakes poker games out of mansions in Southern California. Authorities say that players enjoyed a lavish atmosphere at such events, which included professional dealers, chefs and prostitutes.

To settle their debts, sports betting customers would write a check to Las Vegas casinos, where they could withdraw the money in the form of chips at a later date.

One of the defendants in the case, Craig Kolk, is a dealer at an Indian casino in San Diego and told local media that authorities were wasting their time going after gamblers. “The FBI should be protecting us from terrorists, not from someone hoping to make an inside straight,” said Kolk’s lawyer, Jeremy Warren.

The illegal high-stakes gambling operation is reminiscent of a similar network, taken down in 2013, which hosted ultra high-stakes poker games in lavish surroundings for A-list celebrities, sports stars and billionaire investors.

Molly Bloom, which some have dubbed the “Poker Princess”, was arrested as part of that operation and accused of operating an illegal gambling business. Bloom, however, told authorities that her role was only two set up the logistics of such games, which hosted movie stars like Ben Affleck and Toby Maguire. Facing up to five years in prison, Bloom decided to plead guilty to a lesser charge and received probation.

She later wrote a memoir of her time running the exclusive games called “Molly’s Game,” which might soon be turned into a feature film.

Hundreds of agents participated in the recent raids and nabbed suspects from seven states. Four alleged recruiters have pleaded not guilty in the case so far.