is the only gambling site servicing the US market with a sportsbook
policy of no personal limit collars regardless of how much a
player wins. Their history dates back to the birth of offshore
sports betting starting with a gambling operation in the
United States begun by Ronald Sacco, also known as the Cigar.
His influence on Internet sports betting can’t possibly be
overstated. In fact, the man who is essentially the
of Bovada got in the business in the 1990’s after reading Ron
Sacco’s story. This is the story of the history of

Ron "The Cigar" Sacco

Ron Sacco was born in 1943 in San Francisco and attended
Balboa High School. His first of almost a dozen bookmaking
arrests came when he was just a teenager. Back then, he was a runner
who would hand off cash at bars and barber shops (including the
one where his own father worked). Involved in gambling from a
young age, Ron would turn out to be the largest bookie in the
United States.

With over a half-dozen prior arrests for petty crimes related
to gambling, Ronald Sacco was arrested in 1971 along with his
associate, Ronald Noto. The two were given up by one of their
phone-men who turned state witness over a federal investigation
into organized crime. Sacco’s prior arrests involved no charge,
probation, and/or small fines. This time he had actually
committed a felony, thanks to the Nixon administration’s newly
enacted Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. The law made it a
federal offense to violate anti-gambling laws of any state. And
just like that, what was once a petty crime landed him a 3-year
prison sentence.

When Sacco was released from prison, he went right back to
bookmaking. Again, this is all he knew since the time he was a
teenager and he was very good at it. In fact, he was so good at
it that from here on his bookmaking operation grew into the
largest in the United States. Staying out of prison meant
countless bribes and the fall of others, though this was Sacco’s
operation. When it came to sports betting, he was the man. He’d,
however, soon make a mistake.

The true ron sacco story - history of The chance of

In 1985, Ron Sacco believed he had stumbled across a
loophole. The Wire Act made it against the law to take bets from
one state into another over any form of wire (such as telegraph
or telephone). It also had a stipulation, however, that the law
didn’t apply to activity conducted from legal gambling venues.
His loophole was to open a legal betting business in the
Dominican Republic and have clients call in and place bets over
the telephone. Believing he was legal, the company began placing
small classified ads in newspapers and also purchasing
advertisements in sports magazines. This was in addition to
dozens of agents and runners handing out the phone number to

The mistake Ron Sacco made was that while the betting was
done over the phone, the cash was still paid and collected in
the United States. In June of 1987, his right hand man Tony
Ballestrasse and his girlfriend Marisa Lankester were arrested
in Los Angeles. A week later, Sacco’s nearby home was raided.
For the second time, he was arrested, tried, and convicted
for felony bookmaking.

Sacco didn’t plea however: he believed his operation was
legal. When convicted, he took it to appeal showing he was
current with all taxes, and the records the police found were
stored for Federal Income Tax compliance purposes and could not
be used to incriminate him. This, in his opinion, was his 5th
amendment right.

This defense was interesting. The appellate court ruled since
the documents were required to run the day-to-day operation and
were not stored in a box along with tax receipts. The evidence
stood and his conviction was upheld. As a result, he had to
serve his second 3-year prison sentence. Lucky for him, he was
given an early parole in 1989 after serving 53 weeks.

In September of 1993, both Ron Sacco and his right hand man,
Tony Ballestrasse, were arrested once again. This time it
happened in the Dominican. While they were operating with a
license to take sports bets, it only granted them the ability to
take bets locally. Of course, there was an unstable government
at the time, and a lot of cash was paid in bribes. Authorities,
for years, knew what Sacco was doing. It was pressure from the
US that led to the arrests.

Ron Sacco was deported as a non-desirable resident and turned
over to US authorities. He was charged with running the United
States’ largest bookmaking business, processing over $1 billion
(USD) in sports bets per year. This led to his third felony
bookmaking conviction where he was handed a 68-month prison
sentence. After serving over 3-years, he was paroled in May,

Costa Rica International Sports

Keep in mind the Ron Sacco’s betting operation was
massive: $1 billion per year in sports bets made him the
largest bookie in the United States. There are countless stories
about him funneling millions of dollars in credit card
processing through pawnshop covers nationwide. He also
infiltrated several banks, was linked to several police officers
and elected officials, and was even named in the famous Pete
Rose betting on baseball scandal. There was no chance his
business was going anywhere during his prison stay. For a brief
period, what was left of the bookmaking operation moved to San
Francisco. When several more were indicted, they fled to Costa

Comprised of the Sacco operation that had been built since he
was a teenager, in 1994 the company, Costa Rica International
Sports (CRIS), was born. With Sacco in prison, this was
initially run by an associate, Harry Craft. When he was pinched,
others took over. Amazingly, this was such a large operation
that no matter who was arrested, players were paid lightning
fast. They also had a reputation for their willingness to take
and pay any bet no matter how large or small.

Where the Line Originates

In the mid 1990’s,
the Sacco operation, now called CRIS, was gaining new competitors
at a rapid rate. Guys with no history at all in sports betting
were landing in places like Belize, Antigua, Venezuela, Dominican,
Panama, and Costa Rica starting toll-free phone in shops and
getting rich fast. In fact, the founder of BetMaker, Scott Barrett,
showed up in Costa Rica broke with nothing but six credit cards
to live on. A few years later, he sold the sportsbook he started
for $20 million (USD). He was just one of many who got rich after
Ron Sacco paved the way.

The team managing CRIS needed a plan. The company came up
with: what if we can set the lines before Las Vegas? After
mulling over how this would work and after developing a plan and
testing it out, it came to be. They hired several handicappers,
asking them what the line should be. After getting feedback,
they’d decide on a number, open the betting action, and adjust
as they took bets. Of course, the Las Vegas Sports Consultants
(LVSC), who had previously done this job, didn’t like the
competition. It turned into a battle where each kept releasing
lines earlier and earlier. After a while, CRIS started doing it
for the following week while the 1PM games were still being

As the source for early lines, every bookmaker, even Las
Vegas sportsbooks, would stay on the phone with various reps
waiting for the line to be posted. As soon as the phone agent
gave them a line, they’d either place a bet or say pass, and
then be read the next line. CRIS became so famous and known for
this that Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal helped tag a new slogan. He
was, of course, the longtime manager of the Stardust sportsbook,
the man depicted by Robert De Niro in the 1995 hit Martin
Scorsese film Casino. During a media interview, Rosenthal was
asked what he thought was the best offshore book. His casual
response was "BetCRIS, this is where the line originates." This
stuck and became their slogan. It’s still featured to this day
on their current website, Goes Online **

Ron Sacco was released on parole in November of 1998. Not one
to wait to get back into the action, he paid who he needed to
pay to get a new passport. In the US, he was Ronald Sacco,
serving his remaining sentence on supervised release. A
reasonable plane ride away to Costa Rica, he was Ronald
O’Malley, an Irish-born man naturalized in Belize. Back in
charge of his gambling empire, which remained the largest in the
US, he’d eventually embrace the Internet. While initially
against this, he was sharp enough to see that betting sites were
the future. As a result, on April 8, 2000, the website was launched.

Ron Sacco Arrested – AGAIN!

In March 2002, a man was arrested in Peñas Blancas, Costa
Rica near the border crossing to Nicaragua. He was found with
two passports in his possession, one issued to Ronald Sacco of
the United States and the other to Ronald O’Malley, Belize and,
of course, both photos were the same. The US informed the local
authorities that Sacco had been indicted in 2000 in San
Francisco on bookmaking charges and was considered a fugitive.
Days later, he was convicted of identity crimes, given a 10-year
ban from returning to Costa Rica, and after a short prison
sentence, was deported to the United States on the 4th of July,

This event actually did a lot to give credit to the man Ron
"The Cigar" Sacco. Arrested nearly a dozen times, this was also
the fourth time he would face a felony conviction. All the man
ever did was run an honest bookmaking business. He paid all
winners, took the highest stakes, and had the respect of all his
peers. When he first started, this was only a petty crime that
didn’t even amount to fines given for speeding.

While Sacco had fought all previous charges, this time he
came clean. In his sentencing report, it was revealed that he
was supporting a wife and child in Costa Rica. He had cooperated
with the FBI during investigations related to terrorism, weapons
trade, human trafficking, and other more serious crimes on
numerous occasions. He was current on his US child support,
filed and paid his taxes, and had spent a decade of his life in
prison over nothing more than sports betting. The probation
office recommended a light sentence due to his cooperation with
authorities that led to convictions and helped prevent much more
serious crimes. He was given a 21-month sentence with 9-months
credit for time served. The latter was full credit from the day
of his Costa Rican arrest.

Mickey Richardson

When Ron Sacco was arrested in 2002, the owner of,
who used the alias Mickey Richardson, was recruited to run CRIS.
After Ron Sacco’s release from prison, Mickey was approved to be
the CEO; for more than a decade now, he has run the
operation that Ron Sacco started as a teenager in the early
1960’s. This is the largest betting operation in the US market
and continues to pay winners hassle- free.

In 2007, CRIS acquired a highly-desirable domain for SEO and
branding reasons: However, in addition to, the company already had dozens of brick and mortar
betting shops, clubs, and casinos in legal South American
markets under the name BetCRIS. They also had a contract with
the Rwanda government to operate the state’s betting monopoly.
In other words, outside the US, BetCRIS was a huge corporate
brand and fully legal. To use the new domain, CRIS made the
strategic decision to separate and create a US variant. US
players were moved to the website, while all
others continued to use

In 2011, dozens of
US facing
gambling sites had their domains seized by homeland
security. Bookmaker has since used various domains, including, before starting the .eu trend. Their current website
is and is one of, if not the, safest websites
for US players. These guys accept the largest limits and most
likely process as many $10,000 bets as most gambling sites
process the $10 ones. The chance of ever being stiffed with is next to nothing.

Ron Sacco Today

Ron Sacco is no longer with BetCRIS/Bookmaker. Upon his
release, he initially remained a partner. When the United States
was about to pass a new law called the UIGEA, he decided he had
had enough. While most would suspect this was a cover, it was
completely sincere. For a one-time sum, much smaller than the
worth of the business he had built, Mickey Richardson bought him

As for the rest of the story, Ron Sacco is a legend to whom
everyone working in the US gambling industry owes a great deal
of thanks. After a long series of petitions, his 10-year ban
from entering Costa Rica was overturned. Today he’s close to
both his US and Costa Rican family and is completely out of
gambling. The sad news is that he has a number of
health-challenges, and while he’s still only 70, he perhaps
won’t be with us much longer. We at wish him
all the best and send him a well-deserved "thank you so very
much". There’s no telling what the gambling industry might be
like today had the man who grew and cultivated it not been such
an honest man. So with that, Cigar, if you’re reading this, we
sincerely thank you!


The true ron sacco story – history of
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