BREAKING NEWS: National Video Game Scandal Deepens As Purchaser of Historic Super Mario Bros. Game Is Revealed to Have Represented Himself As Co-Founder of Company That Graded It and Set Its Value

Proof has evidence—in the form of Richard Lecce's own words—that he was a WATA co-founder with Deniz Kahn and Kenneth Thrower, the two men who set the value of Lecce's historic Super Mario Bros. game.

{Update, 3:13 PM ET, 8/29/21: Important new information augmenting this article has been published in a new Proof article here. The article is entitled, “A Major Scandal at the Heart of a New ‘Alternative Asset Class’ Market Is Clearly About Something Other Than Vintage Video Games.”}

{Update, 4:16 AM ET, 8/27/21: In a statement by Heritage Auctions published by Kotaku, the company acknowledges that Halperin was “indeed an early minority stakeholder in WATA” and that he didn’t “divest[ ] himself of his ownership in WATA” until July 2021, when WATA was sold to Collectors Universe.}

{Update, 1:04 AM ET, 8/27/21: “Bronty” has now been identified as Vancouver resident Dan Maresca. Maresca reveals his identity here, and wrote a subscriber-only testimonial lauding Deniz Kahn, Kenneth Thrower, and WATA that can be seen, in part, at the top search result here. Note that Maresca isn’t accused of wrongdoing, either in this article or anywhere else.}

Introduction

{Note: Proof contacted Richard Lecce, via more than one venue, for a comment on his status as a co-founder of Wata Games (WATA). As of the time of this publication, Proof had received no response from Lecce. This article will be updated when or if Lecce sends Proof a response.}

When a man going by the pseudonymous name “Bronty” sold a copy of the original Super Mario Bros. video game—an inarguably historic title for the third-generation-console Nintendo Entertainment System—for $100,000 in February 2019, it was big news nationally.

The game, whose stunning value was sealed by its reception of a “9.4/A++” grade from grading house WATA, was purchased by a group of collectors including Jim Halperin, then a member of the WATA advisory board, and Richard Lecce, who has now been revealed, via digital evidence provided to Proof, as one of the three men who “founded” and “started” WATA just months before the historic sale of the WATA-graded game that Lecce purchased. In this new evidence—digital correspondence of a commercial character—Lecce identifies himself as having “founded” and “started” WATA, naming his co-founders and co-starters as current WATA president Deniz Kahn and the chief grader at WATA, Kenneth Thrower.

Lecce has never before publicly acknowledged his status as a co-founder of WATA, and this revelation has significant implications for the sealed video game market—which has lately become so lucrative that it’s now regularly reported upon by major-media outlets like the New York Times and, in this recent breathless article, CNN.

As for the two men who founded WATA with Lecce, Thrower in particular would have overseen the grading operation that issued Bronty’s (later Lecce’s) Super Mario Bros. the “9.4/A++” rating that made the pseudonymous collector’s copy of the game—as the WATA grader Thrower would declare in a statement later re-published by Ars Technica“the condition census of all sticker sealed NES games known to exist.”

As a professional grader whose determinations and declarations on the box and seal condition of video games move hundreds of thousands of dollars in the nation’s hottest new collectibles market, Thrower’s claim to Ars Technica was not just highly irregular but misleading, however. Per Ars Technica reporting, the copy of Super Mario Bros. Thrower spoke of had already been graded prior to the assessment made by Thrower’s outfit—and indeed it had been graded at a slightly higher condition than Thrower had set, meaning his involvement in grading Bronty’s game technically reduced its value.

It now seems as though there may have been a good deal of intention behind all of this.

The story behind this bizarre sequence of events—a burgeoning scandal in one of the nation’s newest and now most lucrative “alternative asset class” markets—follows.

{Note: In a statement posted to Facebook in reaction to this article, Thrower offers no dispute to the revelation that Lecce was a WATA co-founder, merely implying that, in his view, which Bronty himself contests—see below—WATA’s “9.4/A++” could be considered equivalent to the grading the game previously had been given. In a second response, Thrower “likes” a comment by WATA enthusiast Dan Riga calling Rich Lecce an “inve[s]t[o]r” in WATA but not a grader or executive. Proof has made no claims of Lecce having a position at WATA beyond the roles that Lecce has claimed for himself in private commercial correspondence reviewed by Proof.}

As for “Bronty,” this is the name of a character from the YouTube series Epic Mario Brothers. Per the website for the series, Bronty is the father of Super Mario Bros. heroine Peach, and “president” and “king” of the “Mushroom Kingdom.” His most notable trait—one that may be relevant to the selection of this name as a pseudonym for an anonymous associate of WATA involved in odd dealings—is that he acts “dumb” on critical matters because he has “amnesia.” Of course, Bronty is also the name of a character from Disney’s popular Doc McStuffins show.

Bronty’s first name may be Dan, as a poster interested in sealed collectibles who posts on the CGC comic boards goes by the name “Bronty” there and has identified himself as “Dan.” This person also posts about sealed video games at the Video Game Sage discussion board. Proof continues to seek additional information about this person in order to establish their identity. In this 2008 post on Nintendo Age, the Bronty referenced above contended that in his opinion a VGA “85” meant a video game is “basically mint”, which raises the question of why he—if in fact it was him—had his “85+” from VGA re-graded, and indeed down-graded, by WATA.}

“Bronty” Gets a Tough Break

The original grader of Bronty’s copy of Super Mario Bros was VGA, a grading house launched in 2008, a full decade before WATA (which had been founded in 2017) was officially launched in 2018. VGA graded Bronty’s game at “85+/Near Mint+”, at the time the highest grading for the box variant Bronty possessed that had ever been seen.

But Bronty, who has refused to reveal his identity to U.S. media, nevertheless decided, as Ars Technica reports, to “lend” his historically valuable game to “friends” at WATA so they could prominently display it at conventions under their own corporate banner—not VGA’s. Per the digital media outlet, to make this possible the first thing WATA had to do was something most game collectors regard as a sacrilege: break the VGA tamperproof case Bronty’s game was encased in, thereby temporarily destroying much of the game’s historic market value. Bronty would then let WATA re-grade the game and—most importantly, for WATA’s commercial aims—re-package it in a WATA case.

This seemingly needless maneuver came with risks. Given that WATA was about to use the game as a corporate marketing asset of definable value to the company, any damage to the game caused by its breaking of the VGA case would be devastating to both Bronty and WATA. Moreover, if WATA took the game it had borrowed from Bronty, temporarily cut its value significantly by breaking it out of its protective case, and then re-graded it at a higher level than the already historic level its competitor had graded it at—and if WATA thereafter profited handsomely off the publicity generated by the higher grade it had given the game—it could risk running afoul or state and/or federal statutes prohibiting fraud, including one administered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that will enter into this story in just a moment.

In the event, disaster was avoided. WATA actually downgraded the game’s evaluation from the “85+/Near Mint+” VGA had given it (which experts assess correlates to a “9.6” on the WATA scale) to a “9.4/A++” WATA rating post-regrade. This re-grading would have been a shock—and indeed would have represented a significant loss of income—to the pseudonymous WATA friend going by “Bronty”, who surely expected otherwise from his pals at a time they were telling him his game was so rare and in such amazing condition that they wanted to travel around the nation with it to advertise themselves.

{Note: Given the highly subjective nature of grading sealed video games, some might argue that a 9.4/A++ from WATA is close—if just below—an 85+/Near Mint+ from VGA. The emphasis here is on the fact that WATA did not exceed the VGA rating, and arguably came in below it.}

Arguably, Bronty’s odd treatment at the hands of his friends at WATA put WATA in the position of owing Bronty money—not just for the unnecessary re-grading of his item, but the long-term use of his game as publicity for WATA (a course of corporate advertising that would last for a good deal of 2018).

Fortunately, WATA was about to make it up to Bronty—in a very big and public way.

WATA, VGA, and Heritage Auctions

In 2018, at the time Bronty “lent” his historically valuable game to his WATA friends, the just-formed WATA had only one business competitor in the video game-grading market: VGA. Having been founded a decade after VGA, WATA was at a significant competitive disadvantage as compared to its rival. It needed to take extraordinary action to put itself at the forefront of a still-emerging sealed-games market that its founders (as they would often imply publicly) believed could make them very rich men.

One surprising benefit that WATA acquired, concurrent with its 2018 launch, was an exclusive deal with Dallas auction house Heritage Auctions, run by the very same Jim Halperin mentioned above as a member of WATA’s advisory board. Halperin, a former coin-grading expert, was, according to an August 2021 report by curatorial journalist Karl Jobst, a) fined $1.2 million by the FTC in the 1980s for over-grading coins, b) sued in the late 2000s by an ex-employee for “shill bidding” (that is, scamming an auction’s buyers by bidding on one’s own items, or conspiring with third parties to do it), and c) accused earlier this summer by David Wilson of Collectors Comics—the son of a longtime Jim Halperin friend and former Heritage employee—of putting his own possessions up for auction at Heritage to increase their value over time. {Note: This form of self-dealing is also a category of shill bidding, and can potentially be deemed criminal if the shill bidder accidentally or intentionally allows an item to be bought by a third party as a self-dealing bid session is ongoing, or if the self-bidder later tries to sell the item using a price-point that he himself has falsely established via self-dealing at an auction house he controls.}

These three allegations—the middle of which was resolved via private settlement, and the third of which is as yet uncorroborated (and is denied by Heritage, albeit without any further details or explanation)—will shortly become relevant to this Proof report.

In his own report, Jobst reveals that, in a sworn deposition in the 2000s, Halperin first denied—under oath—and then later acknowledged that Heritage Auctions bidder “N.P. Gresham” was a fictional construction of either his auction house, “partnerships involving Heritage”, or “independent contractors that worked for Heritage.” The use of partnerships to hide corporate self-dealing is another type of corporate misbehavior relevant to the narrative that follows hereafter.

As Forbes reported in 2004, “[James Halperin] has had brushes with postal inspectors, the Federal Trade Commission, and coin dealers who have sued him for, among other things, sticking them with inflated prices.” Kotaku notes that while Halperin posted a rebuttal of the Forbes profile after it ran, he “did not dispute the bidding part [of the article, which described Heritage employees bidding in Heritage auctions].”

In the Forbes article, Halperin described himself as having been “scoundrel” from a very young age. Forbes thereafter substantiated Halperin’s bracing self-assessment, noting that, as an adult, Halperin had been “charged…with fraud” by the FTC for “misrepresenting” collectibles “he had sold at outrageous prices.” Halperin’s “dirty dealing”—which Halperin denied at the time, even as he agreed to make significant compensation for it—occurred as he was in a “consulting” relationship with another company, a relationship that now echoes the consulting position Halperin had with WATA during the period of time the reporting here at Proof details.

As Jobst reports, even though WATA was ten years younger than VGA, and a grading house can only become a reliable business partner once it has a long track record of accurately certifying and grading collectibles, Halperin signed up his auction house to work exclusively with WATA at a time when WATA hadn’t graded even a single game.

A likely explanation for Halperin’s business decision is that he was a WATA adviser at the time; persistent, widespread rumors that Halperin was also an investor in WATA up until the recent sale of WATA to Collectors Universe remain unconfirmed but still under investigation (Halperin’s page at WATA was deleted around the time of the sale).

In either case, as a sitting member of the WATA advisory board, Halperin had a vested interest in helping to legitimize the newly founded company’s operations by stamping WATA-graded games with the imprimatur of his auction house (the auction house’s problematic history notwithstanding). Indeed, Heritage becoming the primary seller of WATA games worldwide, as it presently is by a good margin, has been lucrative for both WATA and Heritage and devastating for VGA, whose games—despite being graded by a house with a long track record of professionalism and accuracy in grading and certification—Heritage refuses to sell.

ABOVE: A screenshot of WATA’s website from the company’s launch, announcing its existing partnership with WATA adviser Jim Halperin’s Heritage Auctions.

But Halperin apparently felt his company’s exclusive deal with a corporate entity on whose board he was sitting was insufficient largesse to goose the bottom line of both companies, with the result that “Bronty” and his rare Super Mario Bros. game were needed for extraordinary and arguably impermissibly market-manipulative measures.

To put a finer point on it, Bronty’s game was needed, even as it benefited Heritage and WATA if Bronty remained quiet about his identity, the nature of his relationship with WATA, and how his historic game came to be held by WATA and Heritage Auctions.

Yet Bronty’s game wasn’t just held by WATA games in 2018, and bought by Heritage in 2019, it in fact became the very face of the two companies’ very lucrative partnership:

Bronty Makes a Killing

Having taken (or at a minimum risked) a financial hit from the needless re-grading and re-branding of his video game—a re-grading and re-branding that aided WATA, hurt VGA, and cost Bronty some amount of market valuation—Bronty was owed by WATA.

In February 2019, Bronty’s payback finally arrived.

In that month, Halperin joined with self-confessed WATA co-founder Richard Lecce and Zac Grieg of Just Press Play—the latter a WATA associate who, like Heritage, had a deal to help WATA expedite its business functions—to pay $100,000 for Bronty’s game, a staggering $70,000 more than had ever been paid for any sealed video game.

As the Jobst Report details, after overpaying Bronty by as much as $70,000—albeit at a time Bronty was owed cash for the downgrading of his game, and its use as a valuable marketing commodity by WATA for almost a year (Business Insider termed it a nine-month “promotional run”)—Halperin immediately advertised the sale on the Heritage Auctions website, where he teased that the video game “just might” appear in a future Heritage auction. He also used the opportunity of this new attention on his auction house and WATA—a coincidence few readers could have missed—to boast of Heritage Auctions’ upcoming first-ever WATA-themed video game auction.

This announcement by Heritage was misleading in the extreme, however. It identified Kenneth Thrower as a “co-founder” of WATA, but Lecce, one of Thrower’s WATA co-founders (per Lecce)—and the co-purchaser of Bronty’s game with Halperin—was said to be merely a “renowned coin dealer, pioneering video game collector, and owner of Robert B. Lecce Numismatist, Inc. of Boca Raton, Florida.” Heritage then quoted the third WATA co-founder, Deniz Kahn, without identifying either Halperin or Gieg as Kahn’s associates and advisers. And it had Kahn himself add, helpfully to the financial interests of both himself and these men with whom he was linked in undisclosed ways,

“Super Mario Bros. is not only the most recognizable game of all time, it saved the video game industry in 1985. In terms of rarity, popularity, and relevance to collectors, this game has it all. Mario [the Plumber] is the most recognized fictional or non-fictional character in the world, more so than even Mickey Mouse. Super Mario Bros. launched the world’s largest game franchise, and this copy is the only known sealed example from Nintendo’s test market release. I would have loved nothing more than to be a part-owner [of this game], and even though this game was already certified, I didn’t want the remote perception of any conflict of interest due to my position at WATA.”

Kahn’s statement here is confusing to say the least. Does he mean that the game had been “already certified” by VGA—which it had been—in which case the mere fact of his agreement to re-grade it, after which it was purchased by his WATA co-founder Lecce, created a “perception of…[a] conflict of interest” (and one might say an actual conflict)? Or did he mean that he was given a chance to co-own the game by Lecce and Halperin after WATA graded it, which opportunity he declined even as he entangled himself in its promotion via conduct that goosed WATA’s bottom line considerably?

In either case, Kahn’s statement establishes his understanding of the potential ethical and legal ramifications of him having a “conflict of interest” with the WATA-affiliated cabal that purchased Bronty’s game. Yet his statement appears in a press release that hides his role in orchestrating the re-grading of Bronty’s game, hides the fact of WATA’s long-term possession of the game as a lucrative advertising asset prior to its sale, and, most importantly, hides his own association with Halperin, Lecce, and Gieg.

Kahn—head of a supposedly neutral grading house—compounds all of the foregoing by contributing to his WATA peers’ PR drop the observation, in Heritage’s summary, that “While many video games sell regularly for five figures, breaking the six-figure mark shows that the hobby’s upward trajectory indicates no signs of slowing down.”

In fact Kahn was personally about to make sure of this—and not just via press release.

Deniz Kahn Takes the Stage

In its reporting on the historic February 2019 Super Mario Bros. purchase by WATA adviser Halperin and (as we now know) WATA co-founder Lecce, Ars Technica asked for a comment on the sale from both Kahn and Thrower—neither of whom betrayed to Ars Technica any indication Lecce was their fellow WATA co-founder. Instead, Kahn said the following of a market-defining six-figure sale he pretended to have no ties to:

“In a way, we [WATA] had become a bit desensitized to seeing something so rare so many times over and over again. But when the Super Mario Bros. came in, it was a different feeling—while... other ‘grails’ [of game collecting] are recognized ubiquitously, this is the one-off copy of what I personally always revered as the most significant item in video game collecting... [It’s] a feeling that perhaps only nutty collectors can understand, and it stirred an excitement for an item within me that I hadn’t felt in many years.”

Here Kahn falsely claims to the digital media outlet that he was surprised and caught off-guard when self-described WATA “friend” Bronty brought his already-VGA-graded game to WATA—even though by February 2019 Kahn had been going to conventions around the country showing off this very game under a joint WATA/Heritage Auctions banner, and even though he was in a business association with all of the game’s buyers as well as a friendship with the seller. He told Ars Technica the game was “so rare” and a “grail” and a “one-off” and “the most significant item in video game collecting” and a find worthy of more excitement than he as a game collector had “felt in many years.”

In fact, nothing about the situation could have surprised Deniz Kahn, as Ars Technica had particular reason to know. According to the outlet’s own reporting, when Bronty made the odd decision to lend his invaluable game out in 2018—despite the cart being, the outlet implies, his most valuable fungible possession—it wasn’t to random friends but a group that had “recently started a competing[-with-VGA] game-grading service, Wata Games.”

At the time Bronty was speaking of (2018) this group of WATA founders would have included (per Lecce’s own correspondence), Kahn, Thrower, and himself—exclusively.

Bronty further told the digital media outlet, while still refusing to give his name, that he lent the game to one or all members of the WATA founders’ group to “promot[e] the [WATA] brand.” This underscores that, even in 2018, well before Lecce bought the game, individuals associated with WATA not only knew of its existence and its value but also that it would hold significant value as an WATA corporate asset. Indeed, Kahn acknowledges that after receiving the game from WATA’s friend he went travelled the country with it, not just bragging about it but market-testing potential future WATA customers’ reactions to it. Did it increase their likelihood of valuing sealed-and-graded games, and the company known to have graded such an excellent specimen of same? Kahn found that it did. More particularly, he revealed to Ars Technica, he learned that prospective WATA consumers reacted very favorably to a widely available title being treated as valuable rather than—as has been the case in video game collecting for more than two decades—a rare title of which few copies exist in any variant or condition.

The story told by Deniz Kahn to Ars Technica about how Bronty’s game ended up in WATA’s hands is hard to credit, as it contradicts Bronty’s narrative in all particulars.

Rather than acknowledging that Bronty was a “friend” of WATA who had “lent” the game to the grading house, Kahn told a different tale. As Ars Technica writes, quoting Kahn, “Kahn says the owner [Bronty] sent [the game] to WATA for re-evaluation in part because ‘we actually recognize on the label what variant it is, while the old one hadn't in any way (or not prominently enough).’” Beyond not naming VGA, not noting his relationship with Bronty, and not noting the game was lent to him as a promotional tool for his corporation, Kahn falsely implies Bronty could not have gotten the added market value of his game being deemed a rare variant unless the label on its casing “[more] prominently” featured that data—a dubious justification for the breaking of the game’s existing VGA case, an act that threatened to damage Bronty’s video game permanently and indeed ultimately resulted in a slightly lower grade being issued to it.

Adding oddness to strangeness, Kahn told Ars Technica that a “mint-condition copy of the 11th printing of Super Mario Bros. is only worth about $1,000”—a comment that implied that without WATA’s intervention, Bronty’s game, a second printing, would’ve inexplicably been mistaken for an eleventh printing barely worth four figures. Kahn’s narrative effectively obscured any WATA involvement in the game coming to its door.

Still more inexplicable was Halperin’s relation, to Ars Technica, of what happened to the game after WATA graded it. Per Bronty, the game was lent to WATA for publicity purposes, and Bronty knew it would, post-grading, be taken on a national tour to amplify the attention paid to WATA. But Halperin’s tale bears no resemblance to this:

“Once WATA’s grading process was complete, word quickly spread among the [collecting] community that the game might be available for purchase for the right price. ‘The owner said he would not listen to an offer that was less than $100,000,’ said Jim Halperin, owner of Heritage Auctions and one of three buyers who ended up purchasing a share in the game. ‘So we all talked about it and decided to buy it together. The extra $150 covered the seller’s expenses.’”

Not only did Bronty’s game not go to market post-grading—it stayed with WATA and went on tour—but when it was then bought by WATA co-founder Lecce and WATA advisers Halperin and Gieg, there was no evidence it had ever been shopped around for a competitive bid. Moreover, whereas Halperin would later claim that he had not been brought into the Bronty deal until a price was set, he confesses above that he was told of the seller’s asking price and was part of the group, with Lecce and Gieg, who “all talked about it and decided to buy it” at the $100,000 price purportedly set unilaterally by their friend Bronty. The auction house owner thus admits to a conflict of interest he would later deny, one reminiscent (though not under oath) to his earlier claim that N.P. Gresham didn’t exist, and that Heritage therefore had no conflict of interest in taking bids placed by “Gresham,” which claim he would later admit, under oath, was untrue.

Ars Technica reports that “While [James] Halperin sits on the advisory board for Wata Games, Kahn stressed that he [Halperin] had no knowledge or involvement about the grading process before it was completed.” While this is a possibility, it is also difficult to credit or confirm—as not only does Bronty say he is friends with WATA’s founders, a group that includes Halperin’s business partner Lecce and WATA grader Thrower, but he notes that his decision to lend his game to WATA was made to enable WATA, and therefore its habitual convention partner Heritage Auctions, to have a game to display at their joint convention appearances.

Would Kahn have sought a historic conversation-piece for a joint WATA-and-Heritage convention booth without discussing his intentions with Heritage’s owner? How could he so misjudge Halperin’s interest in the subject, given that Halperin would ultimately not only buy Bronty’s game but publicly announce, and immediately after its purchase, that it might well end up in one of his auctions? Surely it would have been especially galling for Halperin to discover that Kahn hid his plans for Bronty’s game on the front end, given how Halperin eventually described his interest in the game to Ars Technica: “There are bets on what will someday be the first million dollar video game, and many collectors believe that this will be the one.”

Kahn would echo Halperin’s assessment almost verbatim in speaking to Ars Technica: “If video games are going to go the way of comics and coins, then there will one day be a million dollar video game sale, and I think this is that game if that’s going to happen.” Kahn repeated his assessment, using almost the same language, in a Kotaku interview, Jobst reports. Kahn was even more explicit in speaking to Business Insider, saying, per the outlet, “[Bronty’s] game could eventually be worth a million dollars.”

But Halperin and Kahn wouldn’t seek to make Bronty’s game the first-ever $1 million video game with mere words; actions followed. And Halperin’s own PR director, Eric Bradley, gave a preview: “I think [this particular copy of Super Mario Bros.] could go higher [than a million dollars] depending on the demand. I don't know if it would go higher immediately....The game is iconic, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they [his boss Halperin, Lecce, and Gieg] hold on to it for a while and when the market matures a little bit, it comes up for auction.”

In fact, this is exactly what Bradley’s boss—and Kahn—would do. They held onto the game for months before taking a grand public action to realize their $1 million dream.

The Sale

In February 2019 this grand public action was still in the future, however. At the time of its purchase of Bronty’s game, the small group of WATA-affiliated men who pulled the trigger on the historic transaction—which implicitly been a year in the making—used the two men in the group without official WATA employee titles (Halperin, the WATA advisory board member, and Lecce, WATA’s unlisted co-founder) as buyers.

With Halperin and Lecce in these designated roles and the sale completed, Kahn and Thrower then fanned out to media outlets to pump up a sale they’d helped orchestrate and a game they’d needlessly re-graded—with Thrower (the WATA grader) telling Ars Technica, as noted above, that the copy of Super Mario Bros. his company had been traveling around the country with for months to use in its corporate brand-building was in fact “the condition census of all sticker sealed NES games known to exist.”

Everything about the sale had been orchestrated, but that orchestration required that everyone involved pretend they didn’t know one another. This was especially critical once the WATA-affiliated team decided that a $100,000 PR blitz wasn’t enough. What it needed was a $1 million public relations blitz—and that would take an extraordinary scheme.

The Pawn Stars Clip That Spawned a National Scandal

According to the Forbes exposé on Jim Halperin, the former coin grader has a history of “using television ads to draw in victims.” The FTC had fined Halperin $1.2 million and ordered him, per Forbes, to “include a document with every…coin [assessed by his firm] stating that it had been graded according to loose standards.” Halperin closed up shop, instead. The television ads he’d used to manipulate collectibles prices ended.

It was during this period that Halperin stopped being a grader and instead, per Forbes, “found a [different] way to exploit the system. In lieu of running his own grading agency, he has invested in them.” {Note: See above regarding the ongoing Proof inquiry as to whether Halperin has ever invested in WATA.}

Nine months after the WATA-linked purchase of WATA friend Bronty’s video game, and many years after Halperin had ceased using television to “draw in [his] victims,” WATA co-founder Lecce went on the History Channel “reality” show Pawn Stars to try to “sell” the game that he, Halperin and WATA associate Gieg had bought for $100,000—already $70,000 more than any prior valuation would have indicated it was worth.

On the show, Lecce demanded ten times what he and his WATA-linked peers had paid Bronty a few months earlier. Lecce’s claim, therefore, was that the already historically overpriced game had appreciated another 1000% in value in nine months. The chance that this had in fact happened was virtually nil, and any viewer of Pawn Stars would have reasonably expected any expert brought on-air by the History Channel to say so.

So who did Pawn Stars bring on air to place a valuation on WATA co-founder Richard Lecce’s game?

Lecce’s fellow WATA co-founder Deniz Kahn.

Below is the video of what happened next. It’s taken directly from the highly watched Pawn Stars YouTube channel, which as of this date has nearly two million subscribers.

In the video above, Rick Harrison, the star of Pawn Stars, never says Lecce’s name. Nor does his assistant, Austin Lee (“Chumlee”) Russell. Lecce’s name never appears on-air. Not even his first name. Kahn doesn’t address his WATA co-founder Lecce by name, and indeed barely glances at his longtime friend. While Kahn himself is identified by the program as “WATA co-founder Denis Kahn”, though Lecce holds the same title there is no indication of this given by the History Channel video now up on YouTube.

Kahn betrays no evidence that he knows Lecce, let alone that they co-founded WATA.

To his credit—or perhaps simply for drama—Harrison notes that for all his “research” into the sealed games market, he has never encountered the idea that any video game could go for “six figures”, let alone $1 million. Of course, there would be no reason for Harrison to know this, as the two men in front of him, Lecce and Kahn, were part of a secretive (by way of being systematically misidentified) cabal that at that very moment was trying to single-handedly create that reality. Their ambition was nothing less than to transform retro video game collecting from a decades-old three-figure niche hobby into a flashy, nine-figure global market—and to accomplish this task in just 270 days.

A Suspicious Exchange

That this episode of Pawn Stars is a carefully orchestrated commercial for WATA is clear. What’s unclear is how much the hosts of the History Channel show knew of it.

Harrison initially says to Lecce, “From all my research, WATA is the company that grades these. These [WATA-graded games] are the ones you trust.” Harrison’s remark is inexplicable—and false. Given that, by late 2019, VGA had been in operation for well over a decade, and was in fact (as the WATA-affiliated Lecce well knew) the company that had actually first graded Bronty’s game as “near-mint”—an assessment WATA would agree with during its needless re-grade and subtle downward revision of the item’s grading—and given that WATA had been grading games, by November of 2019, for only 18 months, there is no scenario in which Pawn Stars had been told by a neutral party that WATA was the only grading house that could be trusted to grade video games.

In fact, if Rick Harrison had wanted to know whether WATA had correctly appraised a game’s value, his first (indeed only) possible call would have to have been to VGA, as otherwise he’d be left having WATA assess the validity and value of its own corporate work product. Of course, had VGA been called in to the show to assess WATA’s work product, it would have immediately revealed that it (VGA) was the initial grader of the item, that WATA had broken VGA’s tamperproof seal and re-graded the game to use it as a marketing ploy, that thereafter WATA (specifically, Kahn) had traveled the country using the very item in front of Harrison as a lucrative corporate marketing asset, that the three purchasers of the game—including the man, Richard Lecce, then appearing on camera incognito—were associated with WATA, and that the episode of Pawn Stars then filming was corporate advertising aimed at goosing WATA’s bottom line and, if at all possible, burying VGA.

Not only did Harrison’s false or simply incorrect statement about WATA’s place in video game grading obscure all of this, it also legitimized him contacting WATA—specifically, Kahn—to assess its own work product, and indeed allowed Harrison to represent to his History Channel audience that Kahn was the only person in a position to adjudicate Lecce’s game professionally, competently, and without any undue bias.

Specifically, Harrison told Lecce, on-air, that he would be bringing Kahn on the show to determine whether a million-dollar game “exists or not.” Needless to say, the only possible right answer for Kahn to give to the question would be “no.” Indeed had Kahn elected to be transparent, he would have felt compelled to add, in addition to this, that he himself had been involved in the only purchase of a six-figure game up to that point. To do otherwise would be to knowingly broadcast over interstate airwaves a profound manipulation of an eight-figure market to potentially millions of television viewers—and millions more if Pawn Stars syndicated the clip on its popular YouTube channel.

So how did the fatally conflicted Kahn value this just-purchased-for-a-historic-price ($100,000) game, once he got on camera alongside his WATA co-founder, a man he was pretending not to know? His first on-air statement—at least in the Pawn Stars edit put on YouTube—is as unintentionally revealing a statement as any viewer could imagine: “Yeah, I remember it [this particular Super Mario Bros. game]. And I know why he [Lecce] is asking astronomical money on this one.”

Indeed, Kahn did know. Just not in the way that he was about to suggest on camera.

He continued: “This is probably the most significant piece of video game history that’s ever passed through our grading company.”

That the company in question had only been operating for 18 months—and that it had spent almost the entirety of that time traveling the country with the very game Kahn was then appraising—went unsaid, and therefore was unreceived by the viewing audience. Presumably many of these audience members would, once the episode hit the air, be deciding whether to do game-grading business with Kahn and WATA or with VGA.

When Harrison asks Kahn if Lecce’s game is in fact in “the best condition [of any Super Mario Bros. game of its variant]”, Kahn—whose team had broken VGA’s case to re-grade the game so it would be associated with his company and not VGA, doing so at the behest of, and with the agreement of, his WATA co-founder Lecce—says “Yeah.”

Harrison then asks Kahn to imagine the game before him being put into an online “auction”, asking Kahn this at a time when Kahn knew that the game’s co-owner, Jim Halperin, ran the very auction house, Heritage, that his own company, WATA, had exclusively partnered with, and that this auction house had just launched its initiative to auction WATA games. Harrison asked Kahn to reveal, on-air, what the value of the WATA-linked game in front of him would be in that auction. Kahn, now in a moment of significant danger in a scheme that had by then been going on for 18 months—since he received the game from anonymous WATA friend “Bronty”—answered as follows:

“It’s really hard to tell. It hasn’t sold on the open market. As video games are starting to be viewed more as art and history, not just these relics of nostalgia, this [game] is it. {He points to the copy of the game in front of him.} This is the one that started it all. It’s got the trifecta: it’s got rarity, it’s got popularity—everyone knows Mario—and it’s got significance to collectors. But, you know, with things like this, it’s high-risk, high reward. I know of firm offers that have been turned down at $300,000. It goes up from there.

There’s no ceiling, really.”

Kahn’s statement is stunning—and may end up the subject of a larger investigation.

Kahn had just certified to Harrison on television, as a grading professional, that no other copies of the game variant in front of him were known to exist by WATA. But he had also slipped up, admitting in saying this that he had familiarity with prior offers for the very game in front of him. How could he possibly have access to that information?

Moreover, Kahn, perhaps not realizing his error, went still further and revealed private offers he claimed had been made to Lecce and Halperin that Kahn, as a mere grader, would have had no reason to know about. Even more recklessly, and without in any apparent way seeking the permission of Lecce to do so—nor could he have sought such permission, as he was pretending not to know his WATA co-founder—Kahn revealed that the offers to Lecce and Halperin and Gieg, all men with whom he had or had once had major business relationships, had maxed out at $300,000. But Kahn then went still further, conceding that he knew Lecce’s group had turned down a $300,000 offer. {Note: Kahn’s comments had to be referring to the game owned by the WATA-affiliated Lecce group, as he’d just told Harrison that no copies of the box variant existed besides the one before him.}

Incredibly, Kahn was using the very fact that a cabal he was part of had turned down a $300,000 offer—if indeed it had ever actually received such an offer—to potentially aid the pricing of a future auction on the item to be run by WATA adviser Jim Halperin.

ABOVE: Two of the three co-founders of WATA, Deniz Kahn (far right) and Richard Lecce (second right), shake hands on TV, pretending not to know one another. Kahn wishes Lecce luck in selling a game Kahn traveled the U.S. with for months.

And as if tripling the game’s price (from $100,000 to $300,000) that two members of his cabal had paid to the mysterious Bronty 270 days earlier weren’t enough, Kahn felt the need to add, “There’s no ceiling, really.” His professional, allegedly non-conflicted statement thereby made clear that the value of the game was likely well over $300,000.

Kahn then turned to his WATA co-founder Lecce and—still ostentatiously pretending not to know him—wished him “good luck” in selling his video game. Again, it was a game Kahn had been traveling across the country with for nearly a year by that point.

Kahn and Lecce’s Historic Performance

Kahn’s acting on Pawn Stars was especially gusty, given that in just 90 days he’d be publishing on the WATA website a picture of Richard Lecce standing “at the Wata Games booth at TooManyGames in 2019.” Kahn didn’t identify Lecce in the photo, however, only the man at the right of the photo, Tom Curtin.

{Note: A week ago, Tom Curtin clamored for this author to be banned from posting market research on NES games like Super Mario Bros. in one of the three most popular Facebook groups dealing with WATA-sealed games. At no time did Curtin identify himself as having any affiliation with WATA, nor is it clear yet whether he does. What is known, however, is that Curtin was behind the 2012 sale of an unsealed cartridge that helped bring the graded-game market to the five-figure point it was at at the time when WATA was formed. And Curtin is a known associate of the men who would found the grading company now known as WATA in 2017, having communicated with them regularly via the now-defunct website Nintendo Age.}

That Lecce, Kahn, Halperin, and Thrower had no interest in selling a PR goldmine for WATA on Pawn Stars was clear. Despite Kahn having said that the highest known offer for the game was “$300,000”, when Harrison asked Lecce how much he “realistically” would be willing to sell the game for, given Kahn’s assessment, Lecce adamantly stuck to his initial demand—well over three times the figure Kahn had referenced. In effect, Kahn setting the price of the game at well below a million dollars, but then saying that “there’s no ceiling, really”, had two consequences: first, it allowed Lecce to stick to his objectively unreasonable $1 million demand; second, it allowed Harrison to refuse to pay $1 million for the already overpriced game, thereby clearing it to go up for auction at Heritage—a company owned by one of the men who’d bought the game with Lecce—or else be used perpetually as advertising by Heritage (see above) and to great effect.

While Harrison’s response—declining to pay $1 million for a game he knew, if he read the news at all, had been bought by Lecce for one-tenth that amount just 270 days earlier—was a predictable “no,” equally telling was a confession he appended to his response:

There’s a big business in these [games] right here. And I’ve just been looking into maybe getting into it a little bit.

On the heels of Harrison saying that he had done a lot of “research” on graded games, this statement is astounding. It indicates that Harrison—in the midst of what he knew or should have known was a scripted commercial for WATA—was then planning to “get into” a lucrative new alternative asset market in which any video games he might seek to have graded would be graded by none other than (of course) Kahn and WATA.

Or, in the alternative, if Harrison’s plan was to purchase games on-air from sealed-game sellers, he would likewise—by his own admission—have to use Deniz Kahn as his purportedly non-conflicted “expert” in setting item value in any such transactions.

In other words, Harrison was giving valuable commercial advertising time to a staged production whose authors could subsequently be extremely useful to him in a market he admitted (via squirrelly language) he was “looking into maybe getting into a little bit.” While we can’t yet know the nature of any prior contacts Rick Harrison had with WATA in setting Kahn up as an expert on Pawn Stars, the revelation that this History Channel star who hosted a highly misleading WATA commercial had self-confessed plans to potentially do big business with WATA is deeply unsettling, to say the least.

Meanwhile, Lecce’s performance on Pawn Stars was equally unsettling. Asked what he wanted for the game he’d bought for $100,000 a few months earlier, Lecce replied, with downcast eyes, “It’s a piece of history. It’s hard for me to part with.” After what now seems like the planned declination of his $1 million asking price, he told the camera (and the Pawn Stars audience), “I’m okay that no offer was made. I’m happy to keep the game. And it’s a piece of history, so I’m happy to have it in my collection.”

But that wasn’t entirely true, either.

As the New York Post had reported at the time Bronty sold the game to Lecce, Halperin, and Gieg—and as Heritage thereafter conceded in a press release—the game “may end up in a [Heritage] auction at some point in the future.” So Lecce’s claim about being sanguine at the prospect of not selling the game can and surely will come in for future scrutiny, as either Lecce wasn’t on the same page as his co-owner or he was being less than forthcoming with the Pawn Stars audience.

Nor was Lecce planning to keep the game “in [his private] collection”, as he insisted.

Indeed, at the beginning of November 2019, at the time of his Pawn Stars appearance, Lecce didn’t possess the video game, per Jim Halperin—Halperin did. According to the Heritage press release relating to the February 2019 purchase of Bronty’s game, it went directly into the “vaults at Heritage Auctions” post-sale, to be withdrawn only for “display at conventions and other events.” This means that at the time Lecce needed the game as a prop for his appearance on Pawn Stars, it was not only in Halperin’s possession but had been consigned to Heritage for the sole purpose of displaying—at a joint WATA-and-Heritage table, as pictured above—“at conventions and other events.”

So why didn’t Halperin take the game on TV? Why did he open his vault and give the game to Lecce, with Lecce thereafter going on TV unidentified? While only Halperin knows the answer to this, it seems likely that the answer is identical to the reason Rick Harrison didn’t call VGA to judge Bronty’s game: had the man in physical possession of the $100,000 Super Mario Bros., Halperin, appeared on the History Channel rather than Lecce, it would have been impossible to keep his identity a secret. And as we saw above, Halperin had already been careful to claim—whether true or not, we can’t know—that he wasn’t involved in setting the price for a video game he’d later co-own. Had Halperin gone on Pawn Stars, he would have been price-setting a game he knew might appear at auction at his auction house. Unfortunately, simply sending Lecce on this errand instead may not insulate Halperin from future consequences for his behavior.

Still, according to a New York Times report, it was Lecce who “organized the group of Super Mario Bros. buyers that include[d] Mr. Halperin” to purchase Bronty’s game.

This is notable given that Lecce’s connection to WATA, as a co-founder, was arguably greater than Halperin’s as an advisory board member; the import of the Times report is therefore that WATA co-founder Lecce orchestrated the purchase of a game at a time it was in WATA’s possession—and had been graded by WATA contrary to its own listed policies (that it doesn’t grade video games held by WATA employees)—and then went on Pawn Stars to have the value of his WATA-linked game more than tripled over any prior professional or market assessment, using for this dubious task his WATA co-founder Deniz Kahn.

And when Lecce was done with all this, he represented himself to the Times as simply a man who—the Times subsequently paraphrased“buys and sells rare coins and has one of the world’s largest video game collections.”

No mention of Lecce’s connection to WATA was made by the New York Times. Nor has it ever been made, until now.

How the World Saw Richard Lecce Before Today

Lecce has successfully positioned himself in media as anything but linked to WATA.

Video Games Chronicle describes him as a “game collector.” Kotaku describes him as a “coin dealer.” Tech Times describes him as “owner of Robert B. Lecce Numismatist, Inc.” Eurogamer describes him as a “coin and video game collection enthusiast.” Ars Technica describes him as the man “who until 2010 had the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest video game collection.” Antique Trader describes him as a “renowned coin dealer, pioneering video game collector, and owner of Robert B. Lecce Numismatist Inc of Boca Raton, Florida.” The New York Post describes him as a “coin dealer and video game collector…and owner of Robert B. Lecce Numismatist Inc.” IGN describes Lecce as a “coin and video game collector…[from] Boca Raton.”

Even crowd-edited site Wikipedia seems unaware of Lecce’s privately self-declared association with WATA, calling him a “video game collector” in its entry on Halperin.

So what about WATA? What does it have to say about its secret co-founder, Lecce?

In reporting on its co-founder’s purchase of Bronty’s historic game, WATA continued to pretend it had no prior association with Lecce, denominating him a “renowned coin dealer, pioneering video game collector, and owner of Robert B. Lecce Numismatist Inc of Boca Raton, Florida.”

The author of the above? None other than Lecce’s WATA co-founder, Deniz Kahn.

The Truth About Lecce and WATA—According to Lecce

In private commercial correspondence reviewed by Proof, Lecce identifies himself as having “founded” and “started” WATA with Kenneth Thrower and Deniz Kahn.

Proof has searched for and found no evidence that Lecce has ever attempted to correct any of the dozens of news articles about him that consequentially involve WATA and misidentify him as having no past or present connection to the grading house. And Proof has likewise uncovered no evidence that Lecce corrected his WATA co-founder Kahn when the latter obscured their connection on WATA’s website not just in the 2019 photograph in this article—in which Lecce is not identified by Kahn—but in the report on the Bronty sale Kahn authored, in which Lecce is misleadingly identified and WATA’s role in the acquisition and corporate exploitation of Bronty’s game is elided.

In recommending his appearance on Pawn Stars to his few hundred Facebook friends, Lecce affected something of a less humble mien than viewers of the show saw on-air. Lecce billed the PR stunt to his inner circle using an Austin Powers meme centered on well-known movie villain Dr. Evil (played by Mike Myers in the late 1990s film series):

As noted above, according to an Ars Technica report Lecce orchestrated the purchase of Bronty’s game with Halperin at his side only—Halperin emphasized—“after the price was set”, suggesting Lecce’s mental state (for legal purposes) while organizing the purchase of a game his WATA co-founder Deniz Kahn was in possession of was such that he knew that it could be problematic if WATA adviser and Heritage Auctions owner Jim Halperin was involved in setting the price of the game. In legal terms, I’d add as a lawyer, this sort of evidence is often referred to as “consciousness of guilt.”

Strangely, not only does Halperin finger Lecce as the ringleader of the operation with respect to Heritage’s involvement in it—with the auction house owner underscoring that it was “at Rich’s request” that “the partners invited me in[to the Bronty sale”—he also concedes that the purpose of the purchase was partly “publicity”, a confession that puts Lecce’s TV appearance nine months later in its proper light. Yet Halperin doesn’t reveal to Ars Technica that the “publicity” he and Lecce sought was for either WATA or for Heritage or both, falsely saying, instead, that the publicity in question was intended only to “help educate others about the hobby [of game-collecting].” This statement that may in the future be construed as a confession of intent to mislead the public, given what we now know was happening behind the scenes of the Bronty sale.

As the photograph above confirms, WATA and Heritage not only are in a partnership, but appear at conventions under one banner (literally). So after a year of Bronty’s game being displayed at conventions and other events by WATA and Kahn, the only effect of the sale of the game on Kahn’s WATA co-founder Lecce and WATA’s adviser Halperin was—well, no effect. The game continued to appear at the same events, and under the same two-company banner as before, according to Halperin.

Indeed, after its sale to the Lecce-led, WATA-affiliated group, the use of Bronty’s game as a publicity stunt would continue unabated with only one alteration: WATA would begin, as of February 2019, disassociating itself from the game in a way that allowed Kahn to “professionally evaluate” it on television months later. Whereas pre-February 2019 WATA had possession of the game by the agreement of an unnamed “friend” of the company, after the purchase of Bronty’s game it had more control over disposition of the item—without any additional public association with it. WATA would only face difficulty if Lecce’s status as a co-founder of WATA were revealed, as Proof is doing now.

As to Halperin’s status as a WATA advisory board member, he and Lecce apparently jointly decided that this would not create any legal or other difficulties, provided that Halperin told the press he wasn’t part of Lecce’s partnership at the time that WATA’s co-founder Lecce “set the price” of the game with WATA “friend” Bronty, and as long as Halperin opened the Heritage Auctions vault in February 2019 to deliver the game to Lecce for the latter’s TV appearance rather than making that appearance himself.

Conclusion

Since November 2019, Heritage Auctions has created a micro-economy involving the sale of specifically the NES game discussed in this article. As the AP reports, in mid-2020 Heritage hosted the historic sale of a Super Mario Bros. game for $114,000; less than a year later, it broke its own record and sold the same title for $660,000. The more than three quarters of a million dollars that just these two sales netted the Halperin-owned auction house brought in $154,800 to Heritage (via a 20% “buyer’s premium”).

Five months after WATA’s “commercial” on the History Channel, crowd-investing site Rally—perhaps inspired by Kahn’s viral evaluation of Lecce’s copy Super Mario Bros.—purchased a copy of the same title for $140,000. Three weeks ago, this copy became the highest-selling game ever, fetching investors $2 million from an anonymous buyer. The game is now being stored in a vault owned by PWCC Marketplace, a company just banned from eBay for shill bidding; PWCC has confirmed to Proof that it is not the owner of the game. The person/entity that now owns the game remains unknown.

While Rally sold the $2 million game under its own steam, as opposed to via Heritage, and while it had purchased the game initially in a mysterious private sale with an unlisted seller, the fact that its investors turned down a $300,000 offer for it in 2020—the very same figure Kahn said was turned down by Lecce’s group in 2019—potentially puts WATA amidst the sale for reasons beyond WATA’s grading of the historic game.

It is difficult, therefore, not to see the influence of the WATA scheme described above in $2 million Rally sale that has now transformed video game collecting forever.

Indeed, Ars Technica notes that “Rally sourced this particular copy of the game from ‘a private collector who had essentially made an early bet on the potential future significance of this item, had it stored for many years in a safe deposit box, and recently as the market began to develop decided to get it graded and eventually sell it to Rally.’ That means the previous owner had been sitting on this rarity since well before a $100,000 Super Mario Bros. sale in 2019 set off a small boom in sealed game valuations.”

Ars Technica here credits the Lecce, Halperin, and Gieg purchase with “set[ting] off a small boom in sealed game valuations”, and also implies that the seller of the now-most-expensive-ever video game was likely aware of that WATA-orchestrated sale in February 2019.

So what does WATA think about all this? It’s very difficult to say. The grading house discontinued its blog and discontinued its op-ed section in November 2019—the same month Kahn appeared on Pawn Stars—and since February 2020, a year after the Lecce purchase, has published only one article on its “Exclusive Features” page: a brief and photo-laden press release. Besides this press release and a curt July 2020 celebration of the 30th anniversary of the NES game Final Fantasy, the last new content on WATA’s website since the Lecce purchase over two years ago appears to be the aforementioned February 2020 op-ed by Tom Curtin, which heralded Lecce’s purchase (one Curtin may or may not have known was connected to WATA; the photograph of Curtin and Lecce above might give some cause to wonder), saying that “With the addition of new collectors [in game collecting], prices have soared. A sealed copy of a second print of Super Mario Bros (SMB) sold for over $100,000 last year, and many, many, more copies of SMB have sold for five figures since then….today more than ever the focus is on characters like Mario…and getting the earliest print possible. In the case of SMB it’s a matte sticker seal version. The crown jewel.  It’s gotten to the point where that particular version/variant is a staple in any collection. An absolute must have.”

Curtin then offered up a chart apparently intended to generate a new mythology—specifically, one selling the notion that, for the first time in the decades-long history of video game collecting, getting a game with Mario’s face on it (the focus of Kahn and his WATA peers, including Lecce) was more critical than buying an actually rare game.

The Curtin Chart, published by Deniz Kahn and WATA, declared the “uniqueness” of an item—in other words, how commonly a given title can be found in the market— “unimportant”, a critical argument in favor of collectors buying Super Mario Bros. titles even at great expense; Mario titles are among the least unique titles on the video game collecting market, as established by market research here at Proof. In Facebook communications with this author, Curtin conceded that he has made a great deal of money in the new market WATA has created. Curtin’s essay, billed as an “op-ed”, also established WATA’s role as “imperative”, offered a recommendation for “Heritage Auctions” as a great place to buy games, and declared the rarity of a game (another struggle for any Mario title) only “somewhat” important to collectors, adding that it “doesn’t seem to be the factor it once was.”

Curtin’s claims came in the midst of paragraphs that read as commercials for WATA, such as this one:

“Wata Games is a video game grading company based in Denver, Colorado that has made the transition for comic collectors joining the video game collecting realm much easier. Wata grades on a scale that is easily translatable for those who have experience in comic book grading. But, more so, Wata was born out of the love for the hobby and a glaring need for a new grading company. They are taking what they have learned in the last couple decades and building a force in the video game collecting scene. As of January 2020 Wata Games estimates that the majority of those who buy their graded games through Heritage Auctions are these ‘new collectors’ [who have caused ‘prices…[to] soar’].”

Presumably, as a high-end seller and reseller of games—as he acknowledged to this author he is—Curtin must rely on WATA as a critical business partner in grading his games and thereby setting their market value. It is hard to imagine another situation in which an “op-ed” of this sort would be deemed ethical. The Curtin essay is made all the more concerning by the fact that he used it to give investment advice very helpful to WATA’s bottom line:

I get asked on a weekly basis if I think this [the graded video game market] is a bubble. My thoughts? No, not at all. 

Though Deniz Kahn prefaced Curtin’s unabashedly pro-WATA essay by gushing that WATA had “more collector articles in the pipeline, so be sure to stay tuned”, no new content of this sort thereafter appeared on the site besides the press releases above.

Many questions remain unanswered here. Who is the WATA-connected “Bronty,” and why did he insist on anonymity? Were either the still-anonymous purchaser(s) of the $2 million Super Mario Bros. or Rally’s investors influenced by the public statements—and actions—of the president of what is now the nation’s most high-visibility game-grading house, WATA? Why do so many buyers in the collecting sphere insist on anonymity, as the $2 million Super Mario Bros. purchaser and Bronty still do, despite the latter arguably starting the chain of events described above that led, in just thirty months, to the most expensive sealed video game ever sold worldwide skyrocketing from a $30,000 price-tag for a sixth-print Super Mario Bros. to a $2 million one for the variant now stored by PWCC (during a worldwide economic dip caused by a pandemic, no less)? What did Rick Harrison know, and when did he know it? When was Halperin brought in on the Bronty deal? Who negotiated the History Channel keeping the name and past associations of Rich Lecce a secret? And the apparent misrepresentations and misidentifications authored by Halperin, Lecce, Kahn, and all their WATA-connected peers must of course be explained. And all of the foregoing still remains separate from the stunning, evidence-driven allegations that appear in the just-released Jobst Report—allegations that echo, in each of their particulars, the troubling facts described here.


Disclaimer: None of the content above is intended as investment advice. The author is an attorney and journalist and gamer, not a financial adviser. While he has purchased sealed and graded NES games in the past and may do so again, he is not an investor in such games and has never sold—or sought to sell—such games to anyone at any time. This author on one occasion purchased an item through Heritage Auctions, and it was a seamless and unremarkable transaction.