As part of his sentencing, Helly Nahmad’s lawyers submitted a memo to the court that proposes the art dealer provide community service. But the document includes a fascinating account of the Nahmad family’s interest in gambling as a tool for training its members for a life as traders:
“Since I was young, gambling was part of my family’s recreational life. It was acceptable in the culture I was raised in,” he wrote. […]
At 5, Helly was scoping out antiques at Sotheby’s auctions, according to a letter his dad wrote to the judge on his behalf. At 12, Helly stared in awe at an exhibit coordinated by his dad of 11 paintings of the Rouen Cathedral by Claude Monet, according to the memo.
After high school, Helly joined the family business, and at 21, he managed a small family gallery, becoming a power player in the art world over the past 15 years.
David Nahmad said in his letter that he also exposed his son at an early age to playing poker, gin and backgammon, noting that gambling is a part of his Lebanese culture.
“Helly watched me gamble, sometimes for high stakes, and it became part of his life too,” David recalled. “When he lost, he sometimes turned to me to pay his debts, and I did.”
At 14, Helly was betting on Knicks games through a bookie and even lost in a ping-pong match a watch he received as a Bar Mitzvah gift, according to the memo. A year later, he was thrown out of a Monaco casino while playing its slot machines.
“He bet on everything from who could throw a baseball further to whether a friend could score a basket on an NBA player,” the memo says.
The path into the illegal betting operation began in Helly’s 20s, when he was losing heavily at poker and sports bets, the memo says. It was then, in 2006, that he met Noah Siegel, a chess-playing Connecticut College dropout who developed a computer algorithm that found weaknesses in a bookie’s odds-making, according to the memo.
Helly supplied the cash, while Siegel provided the mathematical wizardry. Bets of $100,000 were the norm.
“Soon, Helly joined up with Noah and went from being a loser to a winner overnight,” the memo says.