Bookies Behaving Badly Part 22: Keith Varga Faked a Sportsbook, TV Caught Him

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In 1997, the U.S.-based marketing manager for Jamaican sportsbook English Sports Betting (ESB), 36-year-old Keith Varga, saw how much money the owner of ESB was making and decided it would be a good idea to go out on his own.

Sort of.
So Varga, who lived in Bath, Pa., and worked in ESB's marketing office in Whitehall, Pa., stole ESB's valuable customer list, quit ESB and started his own offshore sportsbook, called 21st Century Sports and allegedly based in the tiny Caribbean island nation of Aruba.
Varga advertised his sportsbook in various sports publications and started raking in the dough.
The only problem was, the wiley Varga was actually running 21st Century Sports out of a house in Bethlehem, Pa., and had no operation whatsover in Aruba or anywhere else for that matter.
And being a bookmaker in the State of Pennsylvania was and still is illegal.
Meanwhile, the owner of ESB was furious about the stolen customer list and sued Varga.
An ESB employee then tipped off the HBO investigative television program "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" about Varga's scam operation, and in 1998 the show did a segment on offshore sportsbooks and one of the books it investigated was 21st Century Sports.
The show travelled to Aruba and correspondent Jim Lampley showed that the address where 21st Century Sports was supposedly located was actually a vacant lot in a rundown section of Oranjestad, Aruba's capital city.
Three years later, in 2001, Varga was arrested by Federal authorities and charged with bookmaking, money laundering and illegal gambling.
In a 10-page Federal criminal complaint, prosecutors said Varga operated 21st Century Sports from Bethlehem, Pa., Allentown, Pa., Nazareth, Pa., and Oranjestad, Aruba.

Sports bettors would wire money by Western Union to a bank account in Aruba, where Varga traveled every four to six weeks to collect the funds, they said.

Varga would pick up about $25,000 on each trip and upon return to the U.S. deposit the money in U.S. bank accounts, hiding the origin of the funds, they said.

On other occasions, Varga had wagering money deposited in an account he controlled in Aruba and later had it wired to a Pennsylvania business, where he collected it, they said.

In a three-month period in 1998, 21st Century Sports received almost 25,000 telephone calls from customers making sports wagers or seeking information about making sports wagers, they said.

In a 15-month period covering 1997 and 1998, Varga received 2,628 Western Union wire transfers totalling $775,769, Federal prosecutors said.

If convicted of all charges, Varga faced a maximum penalty of 27 years in prison and a one million dollar fine, plus forfeiture of three-quarters of a million dollars in 21st Century Sports profits, they said.
This was not Varga's first brush with the law.

According to police and court records, Varga was arrested in 1990 in Northampton, Pa, for receiving stolen property in connection with an electronics store burglary.

Varga is also a "deadbeat dad" who failed to pay child support for two illegitimate children.
Appearing in Federal Court in 2002 on the 21st Century Sports charges, Varga pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit unlawful sports betting and money laundering, engaging in the business of unlawful sports betting and wagering and money laundering.
Because he had earlier testified against two other bookmakers in two other, separate bookmaking cases being prosecuted by the Feds, Varga was able to avoid prison for his charges, receiving only three years probation.

Varga wasn't so lucky with Gambling 911, however--he wasn't able to avoid being named one of Gambling 911's "Bookies Behaving Badly."

By Tom Somach

Gambling 911 Staff Writer


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