Health club on the outside, gambling ring inside

Posted: August 10, 2014

The storefront in Runnemede suggested it was a place for women to get in shape.

But behind the purple sign for the Curves health club was an illegal gambling ring known as the Runnemede Social Club, where people for years played poker all night and watched sports on a wide-screen TV, according to a series of recent guilty pleas.

Thomas Rand, 43, of Williamstown, pleaded guilty Friday to promoting gambling. In return for the plea before Superior Court Judge John T. Kelley in Camden County, he agreed to probation after serving 270 days in county jail.

In doing so, Rand admitted to running the Runnemede Social Club at 707B E. Clements Bridge Rd., which had three regulation poker tables and a "cash cage" for purchasing poker chips, the Attorney General's Office said in a news release.

Rand also admitted running an illegal gambling website.

The other ringleader of the Runnemede operation, Ryan Dion, 33, of Blackwood, pleaded guilty July 18 to promoting gambling, and faces a recommended sentence of 364 days in county jail and three years of probation.

Three other men, who worked as dealers and cashiers, also have pleaded guilty to promoting gambling: Gregory Henkel, 41, of Haddonfield, pleaded last month in return for three years of probation, and father and son August and Nicholas Gibbons, 62 and 26, of Stratford, pleaded guilty June 20. The elder Gibbons faces 364 days in county jail, while his son faces three years of probation.

All five are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 3.

"These defendants operated an old-school gambling club, complete with cash cage, poker tables, and a wide-screen TV for patrons to watch the sports on which they gambled," acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in the news release, adding that the state would "make every effort to remove gambling from the shadows of the black market underworld."

A sixth defendant, John Bahn, 28, of Aldan, has been charged with promoting gambling but has not been indicted.

The Gibbonses were dealers and Henkel worked in the cage, the Attorney General's Office said. Bahn is accused of also being a card dealer.

Rand and Dion made money by taking a portion of the pot with each poker hand played. The Texas Hold'em games had no wager limit, and the club was open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays "into the early morning hours," according to the Attorney General's Office.

A business owner next door said the club's hours meant he had little interaction with the operators. When their paths did intersect, the people at the storefront with the blacked-out windows were polite and never caused trouble, said Odell Terrell, 58, the owner of Blue Prints Unlimited.

"It never bothered me because I never knew what they were doing over there . . . never was rowdiness, nothing like that," Terrell said. "They didn't bother me, I didn't bother them, and they never did anything to hurt me or my business."

The club ran for about eight years, said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office. From December 2013 until it was taken down in March, an undercover detective from the New Jersey State Police observed the ring, playing in poker games.

When the club was busted, officers seized about $26,000 cash from the players and operators, Aseltine said.

Rand invited the detective to set up an account on his gambling website, 365sportsbetting.com. The officer gave Rand $1,000 in cash, and Rand gave him $500 in credit for his $1,500 account to bet on professional and collegiate sports.

The website is still active, boasting "unlimited possibilities" and "our ability to come up with a limitless amount of wagering options."

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the site's status.

Rand collected 10 percent from every losing bet, the Attorney General's Office said.

Aseltine called the undercover detective "a knowledgeable poker player."

"He won some nights and he lost some nights, but I think it's fair to say he won the final round," he said.


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220 @elaijuh

www.inquirer.com/campusinq

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