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"You have these bookmakers that were used to having customers on the streets in New York or LA, you throw them in a foreign country with an Internet site and they don't know what to do," says Ken Weitzner, owner of the Eye On Gambling Web site. "Gary understood this was big business and he knew you had to market it all over the place."
Kaplan also tried to corner the market by opening Web sites under hundreds of different names. "It was smart," observes Tom Jensen, publisher of www.Point-Spreads.com, a gambling news portal. "Gamblers are by nature superstitious. They lose at one book and they like to move along to another one for awhile."
It was reputed that Kaplan also maintained a financial arrangement with a Web site calling itself the Off Shore Gaming Association. The site once claimed to be a "watchdog" but steered bettors toward certain books. BOS and its affiliates were regular "favorites."
"It was a sham, funded by BOS," explains a former employee who says he saw records of checks written to the OSGA Web master. "We'd tell bettors, 'We're approved by the OSGA,' which is like saying, 'We're approved by ourselves.'"
Gary Kaplan was amazed at how quickly business grew. His younger sister, Lori Kaplan Multz, and brother, Neil Kaplan, soon left their spouses and children in the U.S. to get in on the action. The family kept a low profile, steering clear of well-recognized trade conferences and adhering to an age-old gambling practice of using aliases.
Matt Lindvall, a Southern Methodist University graduate who worked for BOS for two years, says the Kaplans were wary of law enforcement. "In my interview, Scott [Neil Kaplan] asked me what the hell I was doing there and why did I want to work for $300 dollars a week. He was a little worried at first because I was well educated. He asked me if I was F.B.I., and I said, 'No, no, I'm just a guy who wants to smoke pot and surf.'"
Lindvall, the son of a preacher, says the company set him up with an alter-identity Max Anderson complete with a bank account and an ID card. He worked in accounting as well as sales, where he sat in a room with hundreds of bilingual operators answering calls from bettors. The staff instructed gamblers to wire their money to a fictitious name in such countries as Ecuador, Antigua and Belize.
"We had runners in different countries that would go to the Western Union office and pick up all the funds and transfer them to us at the end of every day," explains Lindvall. "We'd make up horribly funny names, like Dick Trickle and Big Tits McGee, that the customers would have to write on their wire forms."
The industry calls this betting model "post-up." A gambler sends money offshore so the bookmaker's representatives can then "place" the gambler's requested bets using offshore banks. According to Lindvall, winnings were wired back to the gambler in increments of less than $10,000 and sometimes even distributed in person. If a bettor was worried about getting his money back, adds Lindvall, "we would say things like, 'ESPN wouldn't let us in to advertise if we weren't legitimate.'"
Football and basketball seasons were the most hectic time, forcing the company to take on extra staff. Promotional materials touted the firm's more than 2,000 telephone lines and computer servers that could process 5,600 simultaneous Web transactions.
"I was in the office for the first day of NFL football, both in 2000 and 2001, and it was fascinating," reports Chris Costigan, publisher of an online tabloid, Gambling 911. "In 2000 they had so many people calling in during those hours leading up to the first kickoff that their phones all crashed. Everything went dead. The following year Gary invested in his own technology, like satellites and in-house phone lines." Says Lindvall: "They would take in $11 million, just on NFL games, in a single Sunday."
The company was known as one of San José's best employers; lawyers and doctors made more working in the BOS sales department than in their given professions. The firm also offered extra perks to certain employees. "They flew me back to the U.S. for vacations and weddings and put me up in a free apartment," recalls Lindvall. "They paid for a maid who rolled my joints, did the laundry and made me rice and beans."
A former stockbroker, Lindvall says he was not the average American on the BOS payroll: "It was a bunch of riffraff. There were several of us guys who went to Costa Rica to party, which is bad enough, but the older guys who supervised different departments they were all running away from something: the ex-wife, the current wife, the IRS or felony charges in Nevada. You had the dregs of society running this thing."
Gary Kaplan kept to himself within the chaotic office, mostly issuing orders through his brother. The company was obsessed with penny-pinching; employees had to bring their own pens to work and Neil Kaplan had to approve every payout. "They were more fearful of people illegitimately winning than the feds coming after them," says Lindvall. "When somebody legitimately won big, it made them angry."