Normal text sizeLarger text sizeVery large text sizeIn a small, low-key office on Collins Street in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, a successful Australian start-up is quietly going about its work.On the surface, the team at Easygo Gaming appear to be a typical group of video game developers, living the start-up dream. Their Instagram page shows team lunches and an inhouse barista at their Royal Bank Chambers office, laid-back boat cruises for special occasions and spin-the-wheel games with prizes like iPhones for staff.But beneath the wholesome imagery lies a dark secret.The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald can reveal the founders of Easygo are the brains behind what is believed to be world’s biggest online cryptocurrency casino, Stake.com – known to some as the shirt sponsor of UK Premier League team Watford.Within a few short years, Stake.com has processed tens of billions of bets on sports, slots and casino table games. Industry observers conservatively value the operation at $1 billion.The revelation Stake.com is being steered from Australia has sparked alarm among anti-gambling advocates, who view it as another distressing example of how embedded betting is in the national psyche. It has caught the attention of anti-money laundering experts and also caused jitters among participants in Australia’s $25 billion-a-year wagering industry, who fear the operation could eventually pose a threat to their businesses.A six-month investigation by The Age and Herald has found Stake.com (not to be confused with the low-cost share trading platform Stake) was set up by Easygo shareholder, 26-year-old Australian Edward ‘Ed’ Craven, in 2017 when he was working with his business partner Bijan Tehrani, 28, in the Melbourne offices of Easygo.“If America has a blind spot it’s guns, the rest of the world looks at us and says it’s gambling. We are completely captured by it. So here, with this business, is another example”Anti-gambling advocate Tim CostelloDespite appearing on the surface to be a casino operated by a company set up in the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curacao, Stake.com is very much Australian. Not only was it launched in Melbourne, some senior Stake.com staff work out of Easygo’s offices and the games Easygo develops are casino games for Stake.comWhile online casinos have been banned in Australia for more than 20 years, a loophole in the law means that it is perfectly legal to operate an online casino from the country, as long as it does not serve people in Australia or advertise here. Stake.com’s business structure, being officially registered and licensed in Curacao, means it also sits outside Australia’s money-laundering laws.Stake.com is a homegrown company.Credit:Matt Absalom-Wong, FacebookTogether the team at Stake.com have hit the jackpot regulation-wise. By legitimately using these loopholes Stake.com has been able to build a casino so large it took $US12 million in bets on the outcome of the last US election alone. The Watford FC sponsorship reportedly costs the business $9 million a year. Stake is also the lead cryptocurrency betting shop for the popular mixed martial arts league, the UFC.Australia’s gambling blind spotStake.com’s rise comes as gambling in Australia exploded during COVID-19, with government research indicating a boom in online betting during 2020 and 2021.In recent years, Australia has emerged as a centre of global gambling industry – we sport the largest losses per person compared to any other country in the world. And now, aided by loopholes in online casino laws, Australia is now beginning to export its gambling obsession to the world.Prominent anti-gambling advocate, Reverend Tim Costello, says he is disappointed that under current legislation, an online casino is legally allowed to have some operations in Australia.“Whether it’s the taxpayer or the government being ripped off or whether it’s crime, whether it’s being the centre of what has the greatest gambling losses per head in the world, for a whole host of reasons it’s a loophole which should be closed,” says Costello.Reverend Tim Costello is one of Australia’s leading anti-gambling campaigners. “If America has a blind spot it’s guns, the rest of the world looks at us and says it’s gambling. We are completely captured by it. So here, with this business, is another example,” he adds.This masthead invited Craven and Tehrani to be interviewed for this story to explain Stake.com’s business, its success and why they were supporters of online casinos. Craven responded politely declining the offer. Neither responded to detailed questions about their businesses. Fresh Instagram posts from this week show the Easygo team was instead busy holding a catered Christmas party at its Collins Street offices.The crypto componentThe beauty of Stake.com is how easy it is to use if you are already exposed to the cryptocurrency world and its incorporation of zeitgeist assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum.Unlike other casinos, Stake.com does not deal in any traditional currencies. Instead, it allows punters to deposit cryptocurrencies into their betting account from punters’ cryptocurrency trading accounts (or wallets). Winnings are withdrawn in the equivalent value of cryptocurrency and then deposited by the player back into the original cryptocurrency wallet. But punters play in US dollars on the site and do not bet on the price of crypto-assets, meaning the cryptocurrency element is as much a gimmick as it is a way for punters and Stake.com to legally avoid dealing with highly regulated banks.In every other way, Stake.com is a regular online casino. It offers a vast number of casino style games from slots to sports betting to traditional casino fare like roulette and live streams of casino games with real-life hosts spinning wheels for punters.Stake also offers a sportsbook allowing punters to bet on a huge range of sports from the NBA to baseball to English Premier League as well as MMA and UFC fights. The group is now looking to expand into horse race betting as well, though it is not clear whether they will offer bets on Australian horse races.From Curaçao to MelbourneAt first blush Stake.com has no links to Australia.It’s website lists the casino’s operator as a company – Medium Rare NV – incorporated in sleepy Curacao. Medium Rare holds an online casino licence from the Caribbean country. The limited company records do not reveal its directors or shareholders. The only detail on those records is its address – which appears on Google Maps to be an old warehouse building that houses a catering business.Yet in many ways Stake.com is a very Australian outfit.Along with the presence of Stake.com’s founders in Australia, several staff members also use Easygo and Stake.com interchangeably in their LinkedIn profiles or list their jobs as senior positions at Stake.com. The Facebook transparency pages for Stake.com and Primedice.com also show the majority of staff administrating those pages are based in Australia.The transparency page on Stake.com’s Facebook page shows the majority of staff Credit:Facebook Dream teamHow Craven and Tehrani became friends is a mystery. Internet forum posts indicate they became involved in the world of online casinos as young adults, through the establishment of Primedice.com, when Craven was just 18 years old and Tehrani 20.In 2016, the pair set up Easygo which focused on developing games for online casinos and helped build Stake.com into an online casino powerhouse.Since 2017, Craven has built up a considerable profile online as the public face of Stake.com. Rather than using his real name, Craven appears online using the name Edd Miroslav to communicate with players on chat forums and social media. Former staff said this was for privacy reasons given the wild popularity of the site.Until earlier this year, ‘Miroslav’ appeared weekly on livestream platform Twitch where he filmed himself playing the casino’s slots and live action games while thousands of fans watched on. This masthead has observed hours of this livestream and has obtained downloads of one of his near two-hour clips where he is shown placing a $2,500 bet on a UFC fight, playing slot games and talking about living in his apartment in Melbourne’s CBD.Craven has deep roots in Australia. Raised near Coffs Harbour, he now lists as his address a $15 million penthouse apartment in Melbourne’s Southbank that was purchased earlier this year by a family property investment company. Craven is the sole shareholder of Easygo, while his father Jamie Craven –who was banned from working in financial services for five years and jailed for six months over the late 1980s collapse of Spedley Securities – is listed as the director of Easygo.Less is known about Tehrani. Former employees suggested Tehrani spends a lot of his time in the United States these days but once spent significant time in Australia. He has businesses here and gave the 84th floor penthouse of the Eureka tower overlooking Crown casino as his home address on company records. He appears on no official records for Stake.com or Easygo, but does appear in social media posts for Easygo and has a working email at the company.Tehrani did not answer questions about whether he was the prolific internet forum poster, Stunna, one of the claimed founders of Stake.com and Primedice. Several former staff members confirmed the quiet American-Australian was indeed Stunna and a founder of Stake.com. “As far as their work goes I have always seen them as equals,” says one former staffer who declined to be named for professional reasons.Bijan Tehrani, swimming Credit:FacebookTogether the pair have built up a business that has employed dozens of young Australians and helped young developers get valuable experience. Staff who have worked with both founders had mostly good things to say about their former bosses. They described Craven and Tehrani as friendly, honest and good-natured. Many were defensive of the duo when contacted by The Age and Herald saying any attempt to paint a bad picture of Easygo or Stake.com would be unfair. None agreed to go on the record.Hitting the regulatory jackpotThe Australian Communications and Media Authority is the regulator of online gambling in Australia which is covered by the Interactive Gambling Act (the IGA). State governments and local regulators that deal with real life casinos like Crown and registered betting shops have no involvement in overseeing online casinos.A spokesman for ACMA confirmed to The Age and Herald it is legal under the IGA to operate a foreign licensed casino from Australia.“The IGA prohibits online casino style services, whether they are based overseas or in Australia from being provided or advertised to persons in Australia,” the spokesman said in a statement. “The IGA also prohibits Australian based online casino style services from being provided to customers in ‘designated’ foreign countries. To date, no countries have been designated.“Under the act, the only way Stake.com can even come close to breaking Australian laws is if Australians can access the site. But Stake.com appears to be playing within the bounds of Australian laws.The Age and Herald investigation found it relatively easy to access Stake.com from Australia using a pre-existing cryptocurrency account, a VPN and a ludicrously silly home address.A spokesman from ACMA says: “We are aware that customers can use a VPN to mask their true location. However, under section 15AA of the IGA, a service provider must use reasonable diligence to ascertain if their services are being provided to customers based in Australia.”However, under the act, the “reasonable diligence” test does not ask very much of the operator. An operator can meet the reasonable diligence by asking players to provide an address and checking that address is not in Australia before allowing access to the casino. The act does not say operators have to assess the accuracy of the information provided by punters or ask for any form of ID.Risky businessStake.com’s business structure and operations also raise questions about the weaknesses in Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The laws require local gambling groups to have systems and protocols in place to keep out money launderers and other criminal elements.Neil Jeans, pictured at the Crown Inquiry. Jeans is one of Australia’s leading AML-CTF experts working with Austrac and corporations like Crown.Counter money laundering expert Neil Jeans, of firm Initialism says Stake.com has been able to “dance between the raindrops” of Australian laws and regulations and has structured itself in a way that “legitimately avoids full AML/CTF scrutiny globally” by being registered and licensed in Curacao.“Coverage – or being caught – by Australia’s AML/CTF Act is currently predicated on a business providing one, or more, of a number of services designated by the AML/CTF Act to people in Australia,” Jeans, who was expert witness for Austrac in its blockbuster cases against Westpac, says.“This approach is very different to most other countries who regulate on the basis of the type of business rather than the provision or a service to a people in a particular country. The designated services approach by Australia creates loopholes which a business can exploit to avoid being regulated.”Jeans says the weakness in the law was particularly concerning given the significant money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing risks.“The real question is are these “loopholes” appropriate for an online casino in the current environment, particularly when you overlay the use of digital currencies?”The concerns shown by experts, participants in the licensed betting industry and anti-gambling campaigners suggests the answer to that question is a hard ‘no’.