US prosecutors charged 27 people on Wednesday after breaking up what they described as a criminal international Internet gambling operation that had taken billions of dollars in wagers.
The network, which operated several gambling Web sites including Playwithal.com, was alleged to be based in New York with satellites in the Caribbean and Central America and to have taken more than US$3.3 billion in wagers since July 2004 on a variety of sporting events.
Police and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested suspects in an operation stretching from Las Vegas to New York and seized hundreds of millions of dollars in property and assets.
"Internet gambling is a multibillion dollar worldwide industry that for too long has operated with impunity," New York District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement.
He said it was the first time Internet gambling charges had been brought in the US since President George W. Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law last month.
He described the alleged ring as "a tightly-knit and an incredibly lucrative -- and illegal -- global gambling operation."
Charges were filed against a Costa Rica-based Internet company and suspects arrested in Las Vegas, Florida, New Jersey and New York.
The proceeds from the operation were allegedly laundered through casinos, shell corporations and bank accounts in locations around the globe, including Central America, the Caribbean, Switzerland and Hong Kong.
"So massive was the enterprise that only with the assistance of federal law enforcement, police authorities in sister states and other nations have we been able to bring these defendants to justice," New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
Police involved in the case described the network as the largest illegal gambling operation they had ever encountered.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, including four Manhattan apartments, millions of dollars in cash, tens of thousands of dollars worth of casino chips and a rare art collection were seized in the operation.
Those charged could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top charge of enterprise corruption.