Bookmaker fined for sending wagers to US, Costa Rica sports books

A Diamondhead man has been fined $5,000 for his role in operating an illegal online sports-betting operation in the United States and Costa Rica.

Kenneth Schmitt, sentenced in federal court Thursday, will also be on probation for three years.

Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. sentenced him on a guilty plea to conspiracy to transmit wagering information.

Schmitt faced up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The bets primarily involved football, according to court documents.

Online sports betting is illegal in the United States but is legal in Costa Rica. Before computerized betting came about, agents or others who handled bets were called “bookmakers” or “bookies.” Now, they’re generally referred to as agents.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Schmitt on Nov. 17, alleging his crimes were committed in Diamondhead and Biloxi.

The investigation revealed a secret operation with password-protected access to several sports books and several ways of moving money, court documents show. It also revealed a network of agents and others to oversee groups of gamblers.

Schmitt’s role in the conspiracy began in September 2009 and continued through May 2014, when he cashed a $2,370 check related to the conspiracy.

Two other South Mississippi men have pleaded guilty to the same charge for similar crimes committed mostly in Diamondhead and Biloxi.

Christopher U. Anthony and Russell B. Miller will be sentenced April 18. They have admitted they went to Costa Rica on April 24, 2014, as part of the conspiracy to deliver a payment to the person who set up gambling websites for sports books.

All three men were allowed to remain free on bond pending sentencing.

Arrests elsewhere in the nation last year came as the American Gaming Association announced it will lobby Congress for legalized and regulated sports betting in the U.S. The AGA maintains legalizing sports betting would deter illegal betting, and criminal activity often associated with bookmaking.

Biloxi and Mississippi have great opportunities to benefit from legalized sports betting, Geoff Freeman, AGA president, has said.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews