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Queens Prosecutors Indict 17 in Internet Gambling Ring

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Officials said a betting ring used the website www.365ACTION.com, which appears to be hosted in Panama, according to public records.

An illegal gambling ring with more than 2,000 bettors in the United States moved millions of dollars through banks and credit card companies and used an overseas website to place the wagers and keep the accounts, the office of the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said on Wednesday.

A Queens County grand jury indicted 17 people in the case, and all but three are in custody. The arrests were made by law enforcement officials in New York, Nevada and California, where most of the bookmakers and accountants for the ring were based, the office said. The head the operation was identified as Cyrus Irani, 37, of Santa Clarita, Calif.

Mr. Brown said the ring had collected $ 32 million in illegal bets on football, basketball, baseball, hockey and other sports. He said Internet gambling was “a multibillion-dollar, worldwide industry.”

“Internet gambling has been compared to some to the crack cocaine epidemic of the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. “It is highly addictive.”

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In 2006, Congress tried to crack down on illegal online sports betting. Today, Internet wagering is thriving, and a new business that resembles gambling, fantasy sports, is winning millions of players and stoking controversy. The Times, with the PBS series “Frontline,” investigated illegal gambling in the Internet age.

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Deposits, using credit cards and bank accounts, ranged from $ 5,000 to $ 270,000, the office said. As in many sports betting rings, some of the profits were spent on memorabilia and other trivia. Several of the defendants were caught in intercepted communications discussing a possible $ 10,000 purchase of a classic Batman comic book.

One of the defendants, C.J. Bruner, posted on what appears to be his Facebook page: “big fan of online gaming its a wonderful thing”

Like many large gambling rings in the Internet age, this one relied on old-fashioned street runners, bookies and agents to move the money and settle up with bettors. But setting the betting lines themselves, keeping the accounts of bettors’ wins and losses, and giving the bookies access to this information on their customers was all done by website, www.365ACTION.com.

The website appears to be hosted in Panama, according to public data examined by The New York Times. An archived registration indicates that the website was registered in Caribbean island of Curacao in 2007. In 2010, the registration was updated to an address in Los Angeles.

The website appears to reach the United States through an Internet link in Miami. What appear to be over 200 other gambling websites are hosted on the same equipment in Panama.

In the past month, The Times has reported extensively on rings of this kind, finding that, while the websites are generally registered overseas, they maintain a secret digital presence in the United States in order to serve their customers more quickly.

Because the websites are registered abroad, they have remained out of the reach of United States prosecutors. Each time investigators bust a ring based on one of the websites, a new cast of field agents springs up like weeds after a mowing.

Despite their foreign bases, many of the websites have secretly developed a digital presence in the United States, leasing hosting services in local data centers or signing contracts with so-called content delivery networks, which maintain clusters of servers in cities around the United States.

Anti-gambling laws have been on the books for decades. But in 2006, Congress tried to help prosecutors stamp out the criminal rings with a law that prohibited online payments for illegal bets. An investigation by The Times and the PBS series ‘Frontline’ has found that the law, pushed through hastily and voted on by many members of Congress who had little understanding of its content, has failed in that aim.

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