Just a reminder, the previous record holder Mario sold at Heritage Auctions and graded by Wata Games was purchased by Jim Halperin - owner of Heritage Auctions with a seat on Wata Games board, pure coincidence Im sure! https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/02/how-this-ultra-rare-c...
"Jim Halperin, owner of Heritage Auctions and one of three buyers"... "Halperin sits on the advisory board for Wata Games"
More concretely, let’s say Joe Criminal has $1.56MM in ill-gotten gains. He proceeds to sell an obscurely collectible item in his possession at auction. Via a shell company/individual, he anonymously bids it up to $1.56MM, and pockets the money minus any auctioneer fees.
As long as the authorities don’t investigate the identity of this anonymous bidder, Joe Criminal has successfully laundered his $1.56MM. And as long as the authorities think that some crazy collector truly believes that an original Mario 64 cartridge is worth $1.56MM (as would also be the case for other obscure collectibles), it’s unlikely this particular transaction will raise their eyebrows. It’s not like there’s an army of appraisers out there who could fairly value this cartridge.
"bestselling Nintendo 64 game, with more than eleven million copies sold by 2003"
>army of appraisers out there who could fairly value this cartridge
Cartridge is worth between 10 and 40 dollars and can be bought in every single retro gaming shop on planet earth due to manufacturing numbers and popularity. All the "value" is in the cellophane shrink wrap and magical Grading, highest ever despite this particular box having crushed corners. Its almost like the price had no connection to actual item being sold.
It feels like the more likely play would be just plain old fraud. With an accomplice, shill bid your item from 200 bucks to 1.56 million, and hope someone else decides that auction was legit enough to buy off you; even if it comes in 10 below previous auction, it's a coup.
Or if it is stolen or damaged in a fire, insurance would be able to help make you whole.
That rings true for me -- think of any collectible and the prices people are willing to pay. At the extreme: large sums for things most people find totally irrational. Who are you to tell a high bidder that you don't believe they are genuinely interested, when you know nothing about them other than the bid?
And to answer my own question: apparently it's not required for auction houses to vet buyers, and this has been discovered by russian oligarchs evading US sanctions. Congress passed a law on Jan 1 to make that illegal -- overriding Trump's veto, naturally. It specifically mentioned 'antiquities' so presumably people are testing the waters elsewhere.
The settlement would then be made (or at least documented as being made) in cash.
It presents a very straightforward way to legally transfer a large sum of money to the criminal (the seller).
Having said that, I'd imagine you'd want to avoid media attention so transactions like this seem unlikely to be ML to me.
Just because there could be a bank or lawyer or someone that can see where the money came from doesn't mean that you can't successfully pass muster.
Protip: A federal money laundering conviction requires an illicit origin. Successful money laundering never has an illicit origin.
Therefore, money laundering charges can only be tacked on retroactively, in addition to another charge based on an illegal action that occurred.
And simply having or moving money is not probable cause. But obviously people can mess this up if they really didn't bother covering their tracks. But if they actually laundered it already then no.
What do you mean? AML laws specifically call for investigating suspicious transactions.
But not from sources they’ve assumed to be KYC’d
The notice merely gives the government paperwork to make their job easier if an investigation begins. It doesn’t begin the investigation.
Considering it's national news, would they really not investigate it? It seems waaaaay too conspicuous and high-profile to be an attempt at money laundering.
And from what I understand, auction houses are now required to file a 1099-K with the IRS so that the seller can't hide from taxes, or hide their identity.
So even without the news, something tells me that filing capital gains tax on a ~3,000,000% return for a video game cartridge is going to flag a little bit of suspicion... ;)
The only party who needs to hide their identity here is the buyer, since unmasking them would reveal that no money actually changed hands. As far as the seller’s concerned, he wants to appear as if he earned $1.56MM of legitimate taxable income selling an old N64 cartridge to some crazy anonymous buyer.
The IRS refers signs of money laundering to the relevant investigative agency, whether when a car wash mysteriously multiplies its earnings by 50x all in cash transactions, or when somebody suddenly gets mega-gigantic super-super-suspect capital gains.
The relevant agency is going to ask the auction house who the buyer was, the auction house is going to comply, they'll trace shell companies as needed, end of story. It's not anonymous once the police/feds start investigating.
Money laundering is successful when it stays hidden among seemingly normal transactions. Not when it sets splashy newsworthy records.
The fact Wata Games doesnt publish population lists, like any other legit grading agency https://www.psacard.com/pop is simply an ordinary oversight on their part, and surely has no influence on the prices.
20 year old pickup trucks with six figures on the odometer are selling for $20k. Pokémon cards are going for millions. Houses are being bought above asking price, sight unseen. P/E ratios on the stock market have gone to plaid. An NFT collection of animated gifs sold for Picasso prices. And a satirical, dog meme currency has a $25b market cap.
It’s unsustainable, but you won’t find me making big bets one way or the other, because, as John Maynard Keynes said, “the markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”
Interesting Nit: Recently learned that this wonderful quote is from the 80s, and not from Keynes:
What is the reasoning to back this up?
Every copy of World of Warcraft was sold in a box - but many copies of the latest expansion were sold digitally, no box to preserve at all.
It's actually quite trivial to do, only copyright is stopping that.
The original has no intrinsic value over a perfect physical copy. (As opposed to a reproduction.)
That's not true at all. I sell games as a business and have to check them for authenticity. Things like print patterns and tactile properties of the gloss are both incredibly consistent across the genuine product and nearly impossible to reproduce perfectly.
There are plenty of $1000+ games that have been around for decades, and not once has there even been a repro made that could pass as genuine to even an amateur.
As far as copyright goes, outright pirate carts have been a thing since the atari days.
Story aside, I absolutely loved this game as a kid. I remember excitedly waiting this game. Nintendo Power shipped out a VHS cassette to hype the Sept 29, 1996 launch of the N64 that summer. I watched it over and over, I was so amazed by the graphics and the gameplay.
For months after Super Mario 64 launched there were lines at Walmarts and video game stores showing off demos of it, of people waiting to play it. It was a huge event.
The freedom of being able to run around and go anywhere in this game, I had never quite seen before. The fun of Mario's acrobatic maneuvers like wall jumps, triple jumps, stomps, and the flying cap were jaw dropping at the time. I can totally see why this game has sentimental value.
I don't know if the rarity of sealed copies is sufficient to justify the price, but it is a masterpiece.
It's also entirely possible that someone out there still has a sealed case of the thing and we just don't know about it since it's such a common game. The price to me is just incredibly detached from reality.
An auction that makes the news is nothing if not conspicuous. It’s tantamount to lighting a sign and saying “follow the money trail starting here”
It's not the first time this has happened in a collectibles market, and it won't be the last.
1. Discover old stock of sealed Mario cartridges
2. Get your friend to help you "sell" one for a million bucks
3. Auction off the rest one at a time for a much more reasonable $100,000 a pop
Wada Games is the grading body, they wont grade your copy higher than the one that just sold, despite the fact it had a crushed box.
Nobody will pay 100K for most common game in N64 history.
Car analogy time: Imagine waking up in a reality where Auction house dealing in art decides to do cars and in their first auction sells 2001 Mexico made VW Beetle they graded "pristine" (despite dented fender) for $80 million dollars while simultaneously selling $16K "pristine-" 1967 Beetle and $6mil Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion (20 ever made)
It's no different than selling art, only that the rating companies are the ones setting the standard for how "rare" something is.
9.4 rating? Sorry, dime a dozen.
9.6? Million dollar piece.
You want to be under the radar for money laundering. Not impossible, but another explanation seems more likely. (I don’t mean an innocent explanation necessarily)
Here's a real-world example: http://maibockaddict.com/1831-capped-bust-half-dollars.shtml
The 1831 date as a whole had a production run of a bit under 6 million, but it can be broken into 20 widely recognized sub-types. These have established survival/rarity figures from surveys of the market and community-- some are "two dozen or so known" and some are "hundreds or thousands".
It feels like they're trying to mimic the concepts from the coin hobby-- numeric grading, the appearance of third party certification and encapsulation-- without developing the background and ecosystem for it first.
For example, those "20 sub-types" trace back to a paper book originally published over 50 years ago, actual research performed by a passionate expert which has been expanded on by the community. The grading conventions are even older.