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Kevin Smith

Prison Time for Frankie

2 March 2001

Maybe infamous bookie Frank Masterana is getting the last laugh, after all.

By pleading guilty to the lesser charges of conspiracy, Masterana faces no more than three years behind bars, and those that know his history are betting that the government may not have heard the last of "Frankie."

Masterana, one of the last of a dying breed, pled guilty on Wednesday in Federal Court to three counts of gambling conspiracy-related charges. The infamous independent bookie, who has been blacklisted in Las Vegas and seen more than his fair share of hard time, will return to a federal institution after his sentencing on May 18.

Masterana was charged with conspiracy to engage in bookmaking, conspiracy to use facilities of interstate commerce for advancing the bookmaking, and for interstate transmission of wagering information.

In addition to the conspiracy charges he was also charged with using facilities of interstate commerce to facilitate bookmaking and several counts of interstate transmission of wagering information.

U.S. District Attorney Tony Bruce, who prosecuted the case, said a person can be charged with conspiracy without actually committing the act, while once the act is committed both the conspiracy charges and the actual charges can be brought up.

"It takes only one conspiracy to violate all three statutes," he said. "He was also charged with bookmaking."

By pleading guilty to the lesser charges of conspiracy Masterana faces 30-37 months behind bars, and that is only due to his decorated past.

Bruce admitted that without his long and storied past, Masterana would have gotten off much easier on the conspiracy charges.

"Without his previous record he would be looking at a split sentence or even probation," he said.

The agreement with Masterana resulted from him pleading guilty to the conspiracy charges, while the other charges will be dropped.

The next step for Bruce in the meantime is getting together with other agencies to prepare for a sentencing.

"We will supply the probation department with all the information about the offense," he said. "Then we show up at the time of sentencing and make a recommendation to the judge."

When asked if the 71-year-old bookie had finally learned his lesson this time around, Bruce wasn’t so sure.

"Let’s not go there," he said.

Masterana’s sentencing of two-and-a-half to three years may seem like a slap on the wrist when considering his past, but Bruce admits that his charges aren’t regarded as major felonies in the eyes of the federal court system.

"It's gambling, it is bookmaking," he said. "Bookmaking is not a hanging offense." After being forced to leave Las Vegas, Masterana moved his business offshore.

Masterana was among a host of operators who moved their operations to the Dominican Republic, giving them legality and legitimacy. The charges were filed after an investigation showed he used his toll-free phone bank to take in bets from New York. The FBI ran a court-approved wiretap on local bookmakers and came across gamblers and bookies placing bets with Masterana.

The wiretaps revealed that Masterana’s Caribbean phone bank was 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 Bruce, a short time after the odds were given, bookies laid $2,000 and $3,000 bets for gamblers in Western New York.

On one day alone, March 8, 1996, local bookies and bettors placed 24 bets totaling $61,000 with Masterana's service.

Although he was only charged in connections to bookies from the Buffalo area, it is believed that Masterana was also accepting bets from all over the United States and Canada. In addition, a number of Canadian bettors have complained that Masterana never paid them, the Buffalo News reported.

Masterana, or "Frankie" as he was known on the Strip, remains 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 last 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."

Prison Time for Frankie is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith