By KEN RITTER
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Nevada gambling regulators, led by state Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt, announced a first-of-its-kind prosecution Tuesday of a man they say ran an unlicensed online poker website from Las Vegas using the Internet currency bitcoin.
Laxalt said the case filed Monday against Bryan Micon, who they identified as the operator of a site called “Seals with Clubs,” represented a declaration that the state will protect its reputation as leader in casino regulation. Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware are the only states in the U.S. with legalized Internet gambling.
Micon, 36, of Las Vegas, is not in custody. Prosecutor Jeffrey Segal told reporters that Micon was believed to have traveled to the island nation of Antigua after agents served a search warrant at his home in February.
The website is inactive. A notice advises players that they have until next week to retrieve bitcoin balances before the address sealswithclubs.eu shuts down.
Micon’s lawyers, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, declined immediate comment. They said they hadn’t seen the criminal complaint filed in Clark County District Court accusing their client of operating an unlicensed interactive gambling system. The charge carries a possible penalty of up to 10 years in state prison.
“This is unique,” Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo said of a case that he said kept step with a shift away old numbers-running and boiler-room bookmaking operations.
“Twenty to 30 years ago, before technology, it was very difficult to begin a gaming operation and not get caught,” Alamo said. “Now, you put in a server in any location, and you have access to the world.”
“This sends an enormous message,” he added. “Technologically, it’s easy to do. But if you do it in Nevada, we’re going to prosecute you.”
Micon is accused of operating the website from March 2014 until February. An undercover Nevada Gaming Control Board agent told a judge that he opened an account and played interactive poker with chips representing 0.001 bitcoin units.
Bitcoin currency isn’t backed by any government. Its use provides anonymity for owners and enables Internet transactions without banks. It is also a method used for money laundering and illegal drug sales.
Online gambling occupied a legal gray area until a federal crackdown in 2011. Later that year, the U.S. Justice Department said online gambling except sports betting was legal, as long as it was permitted on the state level.
Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized the practice among players who log in within their state lines.
Several other states are considering adopting laws to allow online games, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.