Despite the easy access citizens of the Empire State have to legal New York sports betting and land-based casinos, there are still Mafia-run offshore betting sites active in the state.
Federal prosecutors recently snuffed one out: Rhino Sports.
Now, five individuals face federal charges for their role in the illegal gambling ring that allegedly earned more than $1 million annually.
Authorities take down illegal NY sports betting service Rhino Sports
Prosecutors allege Lucchese crime family soldier Anthony Villani was the leader of a betting racket named Rhino Sports. They claim Rhino Sports took action from 400 to 1,300 gamblers weekly.
Villani allegedly received portions of his payments from the offshore gambling site via the US Postal Service as money orders disguised as rent payments for a property he leases out.
But Villani wasn’t acting alone. Alleged accomplices include:
- Michael ‘Platinum’ Praino: 44-year-old Bronx resident
- James ‘Quick’ Coumoutsos: 59-year-old Bronx resident
- Louis ‘Tooch’ Tucci Jr.: 59-year-old Tuckahoe resident
- Dennis Filizzola: 58-year-old Cortlandt Manor resident
Tucci and Filizzola allegedly worked as the muscle for Rhino Sports, collecting money from and paying out winnings to bettors. According to court documents, there were also dozens of other people with Mafia ties handling cash transactions from Rhino Sports bettors.
Court documents also allege that Praino and Coumoutsos served as bookmakers and “significant moneymakers.”
Coumoutsos, Tucci and Filizzola stood before a judge on Sept. 14. Praino appeared in court the following day after his arrest in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Rhino Sports operating illegally since 2004
The offshore betting site began in 2004 and operated out of Costa Rica. Villani ran an in-person gambling ring before. But he decided to take the operation to the internet to avoid detection as he faced a four-month federal sentence for gambling charges in 2004, according to court filings.
The offshore site began offering online casino games in 2020 when COVID-19 put a pause on many major sports leagues for months during the pandemic.
As is customary with many Mafia-related arrests, there were some incriminating wiretaps from those involved with Rhino Sports and searches of the five men arrested revealed large sums of cash.
Incriminating wiretaps and huge piles of cash
Prosecutors said a wiretap caught Villani discussing the offshore site offering casino games during the pandemic. And he called for there to be no limit on how much money bettors could put down on games.
Then at a store owned by Villani and Tucci in Bronxville, Villani was caught saying this to his associate in April 2020:
“I said this ain’t f****** monopoly money. The casino is supposed to be a score for us,”.
Villani was also recorded making threats to an accomplice who allegedly racked up a large gambling debt. Villani told the person:
“I’m telling you right now, you don’t get this money — f****** run away,”.
A raid of Villani’s Westchester County home led FBI agents to find over $407,000 in cash, a pair of brass knuckles and financial records related to Rhino Sports.
In a raid raid of Tucci’s home in Tuckahoe, the FBI uncovered over $55,000 in cash. Authorities also discovered more than $20,000 was found in Filizolla’s home in Cortlandt Manor.