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OPINION: Las Vegas becomes a bigger player as federal illegal bookmaking probe widens

John L. Smith
John L. Smith

High-flying illegal bookmaker Matt Bowyer, who sources say enjoyed high-roller privileges at Resorts World Las Vegas, surfaced this week as a key figure in a multimillion-dollar betting scandal involving the former interpreter of Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani.

For those following the trial and travails of ousted Resorts World Las Vegas casino executive Scott Sibella, whose career has been upended in a case tied to illegal bookmaker Wayne Nix, the news hits very close to Las Vegas Boulevard. Bowyer has yet to be charged with a crime, but his case is being investigated by the same federal agents who have been investigating and have secured the cooperation of illegal bookmaking and former professional athlete Nix.

Beyond the international sports-page scandal generated by yet another illegal gambling case landing precariously close to a top professional athlete, the new development raises serious questions about the level of casino compliance practiced at Resorts World Las Vegas. By regulation, larger customers are vetted through the compliance department to confirm their source of income.

Contacted Friday, a spokesman for Resorts World Las Vegas declined to address the Bowyer development, noting the company doesn’t comment on individual guests. It said in a statement, “Resorts World Las Vegas has actively and voluntarily cooperated with law enforcement agencies regarding their investigation and will continue to do so.”

After guiding the long-delayed $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas project to completion, Sibella has already seen his career derailed as part of the fallout from the ongoing Nix investigation. Previously, as president of MGM Grand, Sibella allowed Nix to gamble millions despite knowing he was an illegal bookmaker. In January, Sibella pleaded guilty to a single violation of the Bank Secrecy Act’s requirement to report suspicious transactions and “know your customer.” He faces sentencing later this year in a Los Angeles courtroom.

Following his plea, Sibella said in a statement, “I take full responsibility for my actions and inactions, but I must make clear I took no action for my personal benefit or inurement.” Sibella’s attorney, John Spilotro, declined to comment on his client’s relationship, if any, to Bowyer. Unsourced speculation on social media has linked the two for months.

The Nix-Sibella case has been an expensive embarrassment to MGM Grand and The Cosmopolitan. The casinos paid a combined $7.45 million in fines and dramatically reevaluated their casino compliance and anti-money laundering efforts as part of their separate non-prosecution agreements to resolve the case. In the agreement, the government stated that Sibella had placed bets with Nix’s organization and had been assigned an account number with the Sand Island Sports gambling website.

Sibella left Resorts World property in August 2023 and was terminated in September 2023 after he “violated company policies and the terms of his employment,” according to its press statement. 

In October, federal law enforcement with a search warrant raided Bowyer’s San Juan Capistrano, California, home in connection with the gambling investigation of Ohtani’s longtime friend and interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, who bet and lost millions. Electrical devices, cellphones and computers were seized in the raid. On the same day in Las Vegas, authorities seized the cellphone of Bowyer’s Resorts World casino host.

Coming so close to Sibella’s departure, it made Nevada Gaming Control Board member George Assad’s earlier public pronouncement vouching for the casino executive seem peculiar. Just weeks after his January 2023 appointment, Assad took the unprecedented step of announcing the board’s investigation had cleared Sibella, who had been accused of allowing a restaurant partially owned by a man with prior felony gambling convictions at Resorts World. The restaurant, Tacos El Cabron, later closed.

A spokeswoman for Resorts World said the property had conducted a thorough background check of the ownership of the restaurant, which failed to find others who were also associated with illegal gambling.

Assad sounded more like Sibella’s press agent than a regulator of Nevada’s largest, most important and most politically potent industry. But as long as the smoke and intrigue surrounding Sibella settled, skeptical reporters would move on and the Strip’s green-felt whisper chain would find better things to chatter about.

It briefly took the spotlight off Sibella and shined it on Assad, whose appointment by Gov. Joe Lombardo had surprised many observers. As a Las Vegas Municipal Court judge, Assad courted controversy, scoring dreary ratings in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s biennial “Judging the Judges” survey of local attorneys and becoming mired in a high-profile ethics case.

Prior to his appointment, he had served as a member of the Nevada Transportation Authority. He is also the father of Anthony Carleo, who gained infamy and a catchy nickname after robbing $1.5 million in gambling chips from the Bellagio and making his get-away on a motorcycle. Dubbed the “Bellagio Bandit,” Carleo was convicted and sent to prison.

It all made the appointment seem politically risky for Lombardo, and Assad’s quick announcement in the GCB’s Sibella investigation appeared hasty. It made some wonder whether the new control board member was in a hurry, in part, to defend a friend of the Lombardo family.

When it comes to casino regulation in Nevada, this is no time for amateurs.

With the Gaming Control Board seemingly on the sidelines of a continuing federal criminal investigation with deepening tentacles inside the Las Vegas casino machine, the fallout from the dangerous game continues. 

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.


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