David Baazov, Amaya Implicated In Illegal Cuomo Donation

Written By Jessica Welman on May 11, 2017 - Last Updated on November 30, 2022
Governor Andrew Cuomo

[toc]Just when it seemed like David Baazov’s name was out of the spotlight, someone drags it back in again. The former CEO of Amaya Gaming has been divesting himself of his Amaya stock, but he cannot seem to shake the Amaya connection.

Both Baazov and his former employer came up in a federal investigation involving Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Investigators say Cuomo political strategist Steve Pigeon helped facilitate an illegal donation. Pigeon is also facing an additional federal conspiracy charge.

This is the third criminal investigation into Pigeon this year. He is also dealing with two New York state cases.

One involves alleged bribery of a State Supreme Court judge. The accused judge already plead guilty to receiving a bribe. Pigeon is fighting the charges.

The other case is an election fraud case involving Pigeon and two others. The indictment came after a ten-year investigation into Pigeon.

Baazov, meanwhile, has his own legal issues. He stepped down from Amaya in 2016 in the wake of an insider trading scandal. His trial is scheduled for November of this year.

Baazov allegedly used FL attorney to contribute to Cuomo

Prosecutors did not name any specific people or companies when discussing Pigeon’s federal charges. The prosecution only referred to a Canadian citizen and a Montreal-based online gaming company. Additionally, the state did not divulge the contributions went into Cuomo’s campaign.

Local news outlets connected the dots to Baazov and Amaya based on campaign contribution dates in the case file. Meanwhile, Pigeon’s attorney Paul J. Cambria divulged the Cuomo connection during an interview.

The Florida attorney is Marlon Goldstein. He represented Amaya in several deals before becoming head of the company’s legal department in early 2014. The charges allege Baazov used Goldstein to contribute $388,000 to Pigeon. The Cuomo contribution in question amounts to $25,000.

Prosecutors say Pigeon conspired with others to hide the source of the contribution. Pigeon denies the charges, and also insists Cuomo’s camp knew where the money came from. Pigeon told the Buffalo News:

“These latest ridiculous charges – three in a row now – show what a political witch hunt this is. I was simply a co-host of a Cuomo party and invited a Canadian citizen to an event like what he attends all over the United States. I simply invited a person and I’m the only one charged.”

Cambria added the Cuomo campaign knew about the donation. He insists all parties involved believed the contribution was legal. The case does include several emails discussing how Baazov could donate to Pigeon’s campaigns without violating laws about foreign nationals making campaign contributions.

Is PokerStars involved in the case?

The case alleges Baazov’s contributions to Pigeon took place from 2010-2015. Amaya did not acquire online poker site PokerStars’ parent company the Rational Group until midway through 2014. The companies finalized the $4.9 billion deal in August of that year after announcing it in June.

There does appear to be a slight overlap, but none of the allegations involve any executives from Rational. However, the February 2014 donation in question raises some questions of its own. It stands to reason at the time of the donation, Amaya knew an acquisition was possible.

PokerStars has a vested interest in online poker and casino legislation passing at the state level. Additionally, the company actively pursues legislation without “bad actors” clauses. These clauses would require the company to possibly sit out of a state’s initial online casino offering because it continued to operate after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

Online gambling legislation in New York

Throughout the time Baazov supposedly contributed to Pigeon, New York state mulled over a number of online casino proposals. Most notably, a 2015 version of an online gambling bill dropped the bad actor clause from its language.

This year, the New York legislature is making more progress than ever towards regulating online gambling in NY. With the support of former online casino opponent Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, online gambling made it into the state Senate’s budget plans. However, it was none other than Cuomo who said he was sheepish on any online gambling expansion, for fear it might cannibalize brick and mortar casino profits.

This week the Senate Finance Committee advanced the online casino proposal. The next step is the Senate floor.

Photo by a katz / Shutterstock.com

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Jessica Welman

Jessica Welman is a longtime member of the poker media. She has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the Managing Editor for WSOP.com. A graduate of the University of Southern California and Indiana University, Welman is not only a writer but also a producer. She has been involved for livestreams for the WSOP and WPT and worked as a consultant on many other poker productions. She can be found on Twitter @jesswelman.

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