A PEAK INTO THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF SPORTS GAMBLING
BY Erik Gibbs
He didn’t mean to become an illegal sports bookie; it kind of happened by accident. Stephen Mardigan was making a decent living as a used car dealer in Portland, Maine when a few innocent requests set him on a path that ultimately led to time in a federal prison and the loss of millions of dollars and a record that is permanently marked with money laundering and tax evasion.
Mardigan began betting when he was in his 30’s, after having launched a successful used car dealership. He made his first bet with a friend over a football game, which led to his being introduced to a bookie. From there, he became virtually a full-time gambler and even started taking bets from friends to pass on to the bookie.
On one occasion, he collected the friends’ bets, but never turned them over. His friends lost their money and he kept the winnings. At this point, he went from intermediary to bookie and launched an underground career that spanned decades before he was caught.
When he was finally arrested and appeared before a judge, Mardigan asserted, “I did not set out to break the law, but somehow I crossed that line along the way.” At this point, however, the damage was already done. He was looking at time behind bars for money laundering, illegal gambling and tax evasion.
62-year-old Mardigan ultimately pleaded guilty to all charges in May of last year after amassing millions of dollars’ worth of assets through his illegal operations. He was forced to turn over $700,000, 19 properties said to be worth $13 million and is on the hook for $3 million in taxes and penalties. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison by a federal judge.
Mardigan asserts that he became a gambling addict. In a letter to the judge, he acknowledged that he became attracted to the activity after placing that first bet on the football game – a bet he ultimately lost – with his friend. He stated in the letter, “I lost and that’s when the chase started … I now realize that I was out of control,” he wrote. “See, gamblers get a high that’s stimulating but tranquilizing at the same time. I lived for that. It was a gambling roller coaster. During the day I had business dealings, at night I had my gambling.”
The investigation into his activity began after the FBI got wind of inconsistencies in Mardigan’s income and large purchases. They began a wiretapping exercise that spanned at least ten years and also snared several other important individuals in the Portland community. However, it didn’t get them all. Maine is now contemplating legislation that would open the sports gambling industry in the state, but some believe that this won’t stop underground gambling, as bettors can “float” their wagers with illegal bookies if they don’t have cash in hand. This is where illegal sportsbooks could continue to flourish in an otherwise legal industry.