Richard Poeton's Big Payday

How a King County bookie got rich playing the county.

A bookie lives and dies by the odds, and it looks like Richard "Treebark" Poeton has beaten them. An undercover investigator from the state Gambling Commission spent 11 months and at least $125,000 making bets with Poeton, whose Seattle bookmaking operation is estimated to have churned more than $1 million in wagers. But by pleading guilty to professional gambling charges last week, Treebark is set to walk away with a mere $2,500 fine and no jail time.

King County prosecutors say the 66-year-old Bellevue resident operated the sports book from 2001 until he was busted with a co-defendant in October 2008 for taking illegal wagers on college and pro games. According to an FBI analysis of documents seized at Poeton's home, his operation recorded 2,600 bets totaling more than $1.1 million in seven years.

Among them were the $116,000 in sports wagers made by Gambling Commission special agent Diane Milner, along with $8,340 she paid in vigorish—the 10 percent charged by a bookie on losing bets, more frequently referred to in shorthand as "the vig." Milner says she made additional wagers as well, but did not list the amounts in her affidavit of probable cause.

Though the book was closed down in 2008, Poeton and co-defendant David Warren Mills were not charged until last fall. Milner indicates in a statement that the commission was attempting to burrow further into the bookie business, and that at one point she set herself up as a bookmaker of sorts. With Poeton's help and advice, she opened "a store" that had five "simulated" bettors, a ruse that helped expand the investigation and identify other bookmakers for possible future prosecution. Poeton came to her attention through another bookie, whom the agent saw working a phone and scribbling down names and numbers one day at Parkers Casino in Shoreline.

Visiting Parkers and the Drift On Inn mini-casino over a two-year period, Milner gained the bookie's trust, made her first bet with him in 2007, and ended up a winner. To settle the debt, he agreed to introduce her to a another bookie, who agreed to match her up with a big-time bookie, Poeton, for a $100 fee.

Each month thereafter she bet more than $5,000 with Poeton, sometimes wagering as much as $23,000. But though we know Poeton made money, we have no way of similarly judging Milner's track record. In court papers, the agent did not disclose how much she won or lost while making the case against Poeton and Mills, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

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