"Frankie" Takes Final Bet

23 February 2001
One of the most legendary illegal bookies who seemed able to weather storm after storm of arrests, felonies and jail terms finally has had the eye of the storm catch up to him.

According to published reports, Frank Masterana, a 71 year-old bookie who was forced to move his operations to the Dominican Republic, is expected to plead guilty to gambling charges on the grounds that he used his toll-free phone bank to take in bets from New York.

Masterana, owner and founder of Caribbean Sports in Costa Rica, will appear before U.S. District Judge John T. Elfvin on Wednesday and plead guilty to gambling charges, a government prosecutor told the Buffalo News.

The scheduled court date comes after the FBI ran a court-approved wiretap on local bookmakers and came across gamblers and bookies placing bets with Masterana. Masterana, or "Frankie" as he was known on the Strip, remained one of the last in a dying breed of independent bookies. He began operating in 1953 after working for his father’s pool hall in Canton, Ohio.

As more and more of Vegas’ conglomerates moved into the sportsbook arena, Masterana seemed to keep his business going. The Nevada Gaming Commission listed him in its Black Book, banning him from any casino in the state, claming he was tied to organized crime.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith wrote this week that Masterana always seemed to resurface no matter what sort of blows or sentences he received.

"In the shadowy underworld of illegal bookmaking," Smith wrote, "Masterana's career has been a stout cork in rough seas. Hurricanes come and go, but the unrepentant bookie somehow manages to pop back up and keep his head above the rough water."

The wiretaps revealed that Masterana’s Caribbean phone bank was allegedly just a front for bookies and gamblers in the Buffalo area.

According to federal indictment, clerks who answered Masterana’s phone bank gave the day’s odds on various sporting events. One day, according to the indictment, a short time after the odds were given, bookies laid $2,000 and $3,000 bets for gamblers in Western New York. On March 8, 1996 alone, 24 bets totaling $61,000 were placed by local bookies and bettors to Masterana, according to the indictment.

Although he only is facing charges on the bets from the Buffalo area, it is believed that Masterana was accepting bets from all over the United States and Canada. A number of Canadian bettors have complained that Masterana never paid them, according to the Buffalo News.

Paul Kaczowski, 51, a Niagara Falls bookie, has already pled guilty to federal gambling charges in connection to Masterana. Kaczowski faces a possible prison term of eight to 14 months when Elfvin sentences him on May 11.

And like his counterpart, Kaczowski didn’t let a little thing like imprisonment stop him from running the business.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony M. Bruce said there was virtually no interruption in the Western New York bet taking when Kaczowski entered federal prison in 1996 for a 31-month term on an unrelated gambling conviction.

Smith conjured up similar images of Masterana in his column. Smith spoke of the time Masterana was in federal prison and was suspected of using the official phone lines to receive his betting information.

"Legend has it he was owed so much money he contemplated staying behind bars after his release date just to collect," he wrote.

Masterana, after his 1988 banishment from Las Vegas, was among the first U.S. gamblers to set up offshore operations in the Caribbean. He started in the Dominican Republic, but more recently shifted operations to Costa Rica, along with a number of other offshore gambling companies.

Masterana operated his business under the banner of Caribbean Sports.