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Sports betting theft gets attention of gaming regulators

The theft of $482,883 from a multimillion dollar sports betting operation started by gambler-developer Billy Walters has attracted the attention of state gaming regulators.

Jerry Markling, chief of enforcement for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said agents are looking into whether Ezekiel Rubalcada, a Las Vegas man charged in the theft, violated state messenger betting laws when placing wagers for the group at sports books.

Agents want to know whether Rubalcada, 35, was paid to place bets, which would be a misdemeanor violation of the state law, Markling said.

The betting operation, ACME Group Trading, a company Walters incorporated in July 2005, considers Rubalcada a partner rather than a paid employee, according to a Henderson police affidavit filed in Rubalcada’s arrest.

The affidavit said Rubalcada invested $2,500 in the company in return for a small share of its profits.

"If it turned out that he was in fact an investor with the company, he probably wouldn’t meet the elements of messenger betting," Markling said.

Markling said gaming agents are working with Henderson detectives as agents delve further into Rubalcada’s activities. He described the state inquiry as preliminary.

Messenger betting is a subject agents have long been watching, Markling explained. "This is not something that is new to us," he said.

Rubalcada, who police allege staged a phony carjacking to cover up the theft, was arrested last week on a 33-count felony complaint. He was freed from the Henderson Detention Center over the weekend on $131,000 bail and has a criminal arraignment today .

The money was stolen between Jan. 18 and April 14 from an M Resort betting account belonging to ACME Group Trading, according to the 10-page complaint against Rubalcada.

Records on file with the Nevada secretary of state’s office show that until October, Walters was president, secretary and treasurer of Veg Corp. Inc., the company listed as the sole manager of ACME Group Trading. Walters, regarded as a prolific sports bettor, was featured this year in a "60 Minutes" report.

Police identified Mike Luce, the longtime president of Walters’ main investment company, the Walters Group, as an ACME "member." Luce did not return calls for comment Monday.

Rubalcada placed wagers for ACME with money deposited into the M Resort account, the police affidavit said.

Between January and April, the affidavit alleged, Rubalcada withdrew money from the account in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $130,000 on 16 occasions without notifying the company’s manager, Robert Ward.

Then, on April 14, in an effort to divert attention from the theft, Rubalcada staged the carjacking and reported it to police, the affidavit alleged.

Rubalcada told officers that as he pulled away from valet parking at M Resort in his 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche, a black four-door sedan pulled in front of him and a man wearing a ski mask got out and pointed a gun at him.

He said the suspect ordered him out of the pickup, then stepped inside and sped away with nearly $360,000 in company sports betting money left in the vehicle.

Henderson police contend the story is a lie. None of the missing money has been recovered.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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