A special agent with the Nevada Gaming Control Board infiltrated a Bitcoin-fueled poker website to help launch what authorities on Tuesday said was the first state-level criminal prosecution of illegal online poker.
“The industry must be licensed and controlled,” Attorney General Adam Laxalt said at a news conference, while flanked by A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, and Tony Alamo, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.
An arrest warrant was issued against Bryan Micon, 36, in Las Vegas Justice Court on Monday on one count of operating an unlicensed interactive gaming system.
Laxalt added that the charge, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine, marks the first prosecution of a poker site that used the digital currency.
“Defending Nevada’s worldwide reputation as the gold standard of gaming integrity is a paramount concern to tens of thousands of Nevadans employed by the industry and the 41 million tourists who visit the state each year,” Laxalt said.
Court papers filed Monday state that Micon operated Seals with Clubs, which accepted Bitcoin digital currency, between March 1, 2014 and Feb. 9, 2015 “without first procuring and thereafter maintaining in effect the required licenses.”
The Gaming Control Board first learned of Seals with Clubs in August 2013, when a Belgian resident complained about the site, according to an affidavit for arrest.
In Skype conversations observed by gaming agents, Micon estimated that Seals with Clubs earned $10,000 to $12,000 profit each month. Authorities at the news conference declined to say how much of the digital currency was regularly wagered on the site.
Agent Ricardo Lopez created an account on the site in early February 2014 and used digital currency to start playing poker on the site the next month.
“I placed bets using my chips, and won some hands while losing others,” Lopez wrote, noting that the site had taken a rake
, or a percentage of the pot from certain hands. “I had successfully purchased Bitcoin using U.S. currency and then gambled the Bitcoin on the website sealswithclubs.eu on two separate dates for a total of 30 hands of poker.”
Lopez compared the Bitcoin transaction to purchasing chips at a casino cage
and gambling with the chips at a poker table.
The agent conducted surveillance on Micon’s home, then collected information from his social media accounts, learning that he identified himself as the “chairman” of Seals with Clubs.
In YouTube videos the agent observed, Micon offered instructions on how to load the “crypto currency” onto the poker site.
Micon was “prominently displayed in the ‘Teampro’ section of the site,” the agent wrote. “The narrative states that Bryan Micon’s team, ‘Seal Team 6,’ had worked hard to develop an Android application for Seals with Clubs. Much of the website page appears to be comedic narrative mixed in with funny photos, but it is clear Bryan Micon is not just a patron of the site but actually operates” Seals with Clubs.
When gaming agents raided Micon’s home on Feb. 11, they found that he was logged into the poker site and was editing one of the pages.
Seals with Clubs was promptly shut down in February after the raid, but Micon flew to Antigua the next day and later launched a new Bitcoin site, SwCPoker.eu.
Authorities said Micon’s last known whereabouts were in the Caribbean island nation.
On Tuesday afternoon, Micon Tweeted that he had launched a gofundme.com campaign to raise $100,000 for his legal defense.
“The price for representation will quickly deplete my funds, and I am asking for donations from anyone who feels like helping me,” Micon wrote on the site, which showed that he raised $1,000 in less than 20 minutes. “As a husband, father of a 2 year old girl, & outspoken Bitcoin advocate, I desire nothing more than to continue to be with my wife, raise my daughter, and continue to build layers on top of the Bitcoin protocol.
“The state of Nevada desires to take that away from me. Please help me fight.”
His lawyer, David Chesnoff, declined to speak about where Micon was living. No court date had been set as of Tuesday afternoon.
“Mr. Micon maintains his innocence, and we’re looking forward to litigating on what appears to be a case of first impression,” Chesnoff said. “We are going to advise our client that he’s been charged in Las Vegas and what his legal obligations are.”