In 1990, New Jersey resident John Bovery, now 58, started a fantasy football pool in his Wall Street office. Fifty-seven players joined for $US50 each, making the total pay-out $US2,850.
Over the next two decades, his pools mushroomed in size to $US837,000 and included more than 8,000 people from around the globe, according to NJ.com.
The explosive growth, however, came to an abrupt halt in 2010, when police investigating a Jersey mobster with ties to sports betting found out about Bovery’s lucrative hobby. At the time, New Jersey had banned sports betting, even fantasy pools, which have become an ubiquitous element of office culture around the country.
Since then, Bovery had his banks accounts seized, spent time in jail, and now stands in the throes of a years-long legal battle, all while $US150,000 in debt.
“I’m a rules guy,” he told NJ.com. “You want to enforce the letter of the law? Fine. But I’m the only pool manager you’ll able to find in the state? The first one you ever found? …. Why am I the only one?”
Realistically, Bovery isn’t. Some put estimates for the fantasy realm as high as $US70 billion — and that’s just football.
Although New Jersey’s vague gambling laws make no mention of fantasy pools, statute 2C:37-2 states that:
“A person is guilty of promoting gambling when he knowingly … “accepts or receives money or other property, pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person whereby he participates or will participate in the proceeds of gambling activity; or … engages in conduct, which materially aids any form of gambling activity.”
According to Bovery, his pools included sports broadcasters, New Jersey state troopers, dozens of lawyers, and even agents for Tiger Woods and other PGA tour golfers.
He says he never asked participants for any money to join his pools though. His website, jrwinkle.com, only suggested that pleased players “gift” 10% of their winnings. Bovery’s pools, however, did leave him with about 6-figures worth of profit, enough so that he could quit his finance job and become a maths teacher.
Then, in September 2010, two investigators from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office knocked on the door of Bovery’s 3-bedroom condo. They asked if he knew Joseph LaScala, an alleged member of the Genovese crime family, known as the “Godfather of New Jersey.”
Bovery didn’t — but he had sent LaScala $US90,000 as winnings from one of his pools.
“Where is the cash,” one officer demanded, according to NJ.com. “Where are the betting slips?”
Right then and there, he says, Bovery explained his entire operation and asked if he was doing anything illegal. The police didn’t answer. So he kept his pools going.
Four months later, 11 cops stormed Bovery’s home again — “like I was Al Capone,” he told NJ.com — and arrested him. Bovery 25 days in jail and now faces a felony conviction, which caused him to lose his teaching job and has prevented him from finding another.
“They targeted John because of the money that was involved, and instead of telling him to stop, they shut him down the Thursday that the season started,” Ralph Ferrara, Bovery’s civil attorney, told NJ.com. “And then they said it was ‘coincidental.'”
While awaiting his criminal trial scheduled to begin summer 2015, Bovery has filed a civil case against the forfeiture of his assets. Police confiscated three of his bank accounts, totalling $US846,000. Bovery says $US722,000 of that belonged to participants in an NFL pool, while $US124,000 was his life’s savings.
While Monmouth County prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni refused to provide details of the case, “there’s more than one side to the story,” he told Fox News. “Our evidence will show that, and we look forward to our day in court in June to present our case.”
In 2014, New Jersey repealed a provision that made sports gambling illegal in the state. That move, however, could violate federal laws, which take precedent over state’s rights. The fight just returned to court Tuesday.
“I’m just a guy who manages the spreadsheets and names and holds the money until someone is the victor,” Bovery told Fox.
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