Gambling loopholes brew from PCB 668On a meeting with the Senate Gambling Committee last week, gaming expert Marc Dunbar from the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers laid out on the table the odds gambling operations might take advantage of to keep their business alive in Florida.Based on Dunbar’s arguments, PCB 668, a bill supposed to fix a law legislated last year which compromised arcades during a crackdown on storefront casinos, was laden with loopholes that had given traction to legally suspect gambling operations in the state.According to Dunbar, a professor at the Florida State University who specializes in gaming law, the bill’s slack wordings would egg on an outbreak of the strip mall casinos shutdown a year ago.After Dunbar’s presentation, the senate debated on the issue of senior arcades’ innocence with their set of slot machine-like gambling devices arranged in long rows inside their establishments.However, the senators paid no heed on the expert’s warning and voted unanimously on the bill.In 2013 several senior arcade operators remodelled their machines and prizes to comply with House Bill 155 approved by Governor Rick Scott. The law which took effect immediately following the resignation of Gov. Jennifer Carroll whose name was dragged over the Allied Veterans of the World charity scam had shut down around 1,000 operations in Florida.Later that year, Senator Jack Latvala announced that he wanted to amend HB 177, a bill which drawn establishments like Dave & Busters and Chuck E. Cheese’s in a lawsuit for violating the law. After HB 177 compromised claw machines which offer patrons various stuff toys inside a transparent box are being closed in accordance with the new law, Latvala vowed to make changes and fix the law.Back in the 90’s, loopholes granted gambling boats access to Florida. The ships cruised anywhere and docked at ports within the state’s boundaries.In 1979, the limitation of bingo wagering to charitable cause with a maximum pot of $100 provided a gateway to the opening of seven casinos in Florida operated by the Seminole’s tribe.These loopholes also opened the door to poker rooms and slot machine racinos camouflaged as faux racing and jai-alai events.The new bill intended not to curb problems in the future, but to correct the past, said the Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples. Let’s just hope that this bill would not create the same problems created in the past, so as not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
SANFORD, FLORIDA – On Friday Oct 11, a Florida jury found Kelly Mathis, the lawyer for a ring of gambling cafes, guilty on over 100 counts, including racketeering and possession of an illegal slot machine . The verdict marked the conclusion of the first criminal trial that could set precedent for the remainder of the Florida defendants that are awaiting trial.
Members of the industry, for years now, have made the argument that their sweepstakes cafes, which were outlets where paying customers purchase a promoted product and are given sweepstakes entries on computers that mimic slot machines, but do not represent the states definition of ‘gambling’.
Multiple law enforcement officials, along with state prosecutors, on the contrary, have argued that the “sweepstakes” games constitute a form of illegal gambling. “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” a state prosecutor argued in the Mathis trial.
Mathis’ conviction is the first major victory for prosecutors stemming from a multi-year, multi-state, multi-agency investigation into the storefront casinos, nicknamed “Reveal the Deal.” Over the weekend, Florida law enforcement officials celebrated the verdict.
“The verdict finding Kelly Mathis guilty should send a strong message that those involved in running this illegal gambling scheme under the façade of a charitable organization to help veterans will be held accountable,” Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General, said in a statement.
Mathis, who is out on bond awaits sentencing and now faces the possibility of a lengthy period in prison. After the verdict, he told reporters that he would appeal and that he was “Shocked” at the verdict.
In the wake of Mathis’ arrest along with 56 other defendants of the “Reveal the Deal,” operation—most of the internet sweepstakes cafes around the state shut down. In recent months however, the businesses have slowly started to reopen around the Sunshine State.
Officials are hoping that Mathis’ conviction will reverse the trend. As prosecutor Nick Cox told the Associated Press on Friday, “it’s kind of hard to ignore a verdict like this.”
Prosecutors May Have Not Known The Difference Between a Sweepstakes and Gambling Device
SANFORD, Fla. – According to the prosecution, the defendant helped build a network of mini-casinos throughout Florida and called it a veterans’ charity and should be convicted of more than 100 criminal counts, including racketeering and running a lottery.
While giving closing arguments, prosecutor Lisa Acharekar also asked jurors to convict Kelly Mathis of conspiracy and possessing slot machines. The arrests of Mathis and more than 50 other defendants led to the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor earlier this year and a ban on all Internet cafes in Florida.
Mathis determined where the Internet cafes run should be located and made other key decisions for the group, Acharekar said.”This case is about the law. It’s nothing more than that,” Acharekar said. “The defendant, with the activities he participated in, broke the law.”
Mathis has said he is an attorney for the charity, giving legal advice, and that the Internet cafes were legal until the Legislature banned them this year. (See HB-155) His attorneys have said Mathis never controlled any part of Allied Veterans of the World and even if he did, it was a legal.
Mitch Stone, defense attorney, told jurors that prosecutors had misinterpreted what was a gaming promotion and what was a gambling act and labeled it as gambling. The Internet cafes offered high-tech sweepstakes promotions and the law hadn’t yet caught up with technology by the time of Mathis’ arrest last March, he said. The internet sweepstakes café business model is common through-out the nation. A statement that was somewhat supported by the states inability to produce an expert witness describing the difference.
“This case is based on the state’s view of blurry evidence,” Stone said. “They haven’t proven it’s gambling, number one, and they haven’t proven that Mr. Mathis was a part of the organization, number two.”
Thus far, Mathis is the only one of 56 defendants to go to trial in a case. About the time the arrests were announced, former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said she would step down because her public relations firm once represented Allied Veterans. She was not charged with any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors said Mathis and his associates built a $300 million gambling operation by claiming the stores were businesses where customers could buy Internet time, when actually most customers played slot machine games on computers and didn’t use the Internet, although some of the games were on the internet. Much like buying food at McDoanld’s and getting free entries into the Monopoly sweepstakes. The theory is, that the purchase was for the product and the entry was given free to the customer.
Prosecutors have stated that Mathis and his attorney firm made $6 million from the operation over five years.
“The defendant was doing pretty good by Allied Veterans of the World,” Acharekar said.
The prosecution nor the defense called witnesses of Mathis’ key co-defendants who reached deals with prosecutors: former Allied Veterans of the World leaders Johnny Duncan, Jerry Bass, as well as Chase Burns, who operated a company that made software for computers at the dozens of Allied Veterans centers around Florida.
Defense attorneys also didn’t call some of the state’s top politicians – such as Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi – even though they were listed as potential witnesses. The judge in the case limited testimony from witnesses who could talk about efforts by local governments and the state Legislature to regulate the Internet cafes. A move that was criticized by many involved in the case.
SANFORD, FLORIDA — On Wednesday, in front of a packed courtroom, Jacksonville’s retired deputy general counsel testified that the internet sweepstakes games in the Allied Veterans of the World Internet cafes were legal.
Steve Rohan testified under oath that he met with Allied’s attorney, Kelly Mathis, several times in 2007 to discuss the city’s ordinances that would come into play with Allied Veterans’ operations.
Mathis is on trial in Sanford, where he faces more than 100 charges of racketeering, possession of a slot machine and conducting a lottery. The judge dismissed over 4 dozen of the money laundering charges after the prosecution rested its case Tuesday.
Rohan and a former assistant state attorney in Volusia County both testified under oath that they believed Mathis was proposing a legal operation for the Allied Veterans centers.
“That was my opinion,” Rohan testified Wednesday. “We would not be advocating for a business that was in violation of state law.”
Rohan said Wednesday Mathis was open about setting up the sweepstakes games, which resembled gambling but did not fit the description that the state had defined.
Customers of the cafes sign a form that says they were purchasing Internet time. Sweepstakes entries were included for free. A business model almost identical to McDonalds Monopoly game.
“The (sweepstakes) exception Mr. Mathis proposed, while people might not like it, was a legitimate exception,” said Rohan.
Mathis told Rohan that a percentage of proceeds were going to a veterans’ charity. Eventually, poker rooms and local dog tracks wanted an ordinance to prohibit sweepstakes parlors in the city, which were run by several companies.
“Neither the state attorney nor the sheriff were trying to cease their operations,” Rohan said. The public, however, wanted the Internet cafes to remain open. “People spoke at our City Council meeting and demanded the ability to go to them,” Rohan said.
Mitch Stone, Mathis’ defense attorney, showed jurors a document from the state Department of Agriculture that said legal sweepstakes games in Florida must resemble the McDonald’s Monopoly game, where a ticket that might win a prize, is given away with a purchase.
Allied Veterans gave customers an electronic “scratch-off” ticket when they bought Internet time, and the players could only be revealed on a computer on the inside the cyber sweepstakes cafe.
Several prosecution witnesses, customers of the cafes said they thought they were gambling and seemed confused to hear in court that they were simply learning from the computer whether their tickets were winners.
“The use of the computer was a fun way to find out whether you won or lost,” said Daniel Leising, a former assistant state attorney in Volusia County describing the ‘entertaining display’.
Leising said he met with Mathis and found that the Allied Veterans Business Model followed state law.
Jacksonville attorney Ed Akel said that while Mathis was listed as the registered agent for Allied Veterans, that did not make him a partner or give him a business interest in the company that took in $300 million as a veterans’ charity, while giving only 2 percent, or $6 million, to veterans – the same amount Mathis made in legal fees.
The prosecution ended their case Monday, almost 3 weeks shy of the four-week estimate.
The defense has a list of nearly 400 witnesses to choose from and will present at least six witnesses today, Stone said.
SANFORD, Fla. — Internet Sweepstakes Attorney for a Florida lawyer have requested a judge to throw out charges that claim that their client helped build a $300 million gambling operation.
Attorneys for Kelly Mathis asked Judge Kenneth Lester to throw out the case on Tuesday morning, claiming prosecutors ‘did not whatsoever’ prove the Jacksonville lawyer is guilty of any crime, let alone being a mastermind of a $300 million gambling ring.
Mathis’ lawyers say he never controlled, owned or managed any of the dozens of Internet sweepstales cafes in Florida. They say that, even if he did, the centers were offering sweepstakes, not gambling.The State’s star ‘expert’ witness was not called to distinguish the difference between a sweepstakes machine and a slot machine in accordance with federal law.
Mathis claims he was acting only as an attorney, giving legal advice, and nothing else.
JACKSONVILLE, Fl. - Internet cafes in Jacksonville are filling back up despite a state law supposedly banning them.
Pete’s Retreat Cyber Cafe on Normandy Boulevard on the Westside was was the first known to reopen introducing a new gaming software that is rumored to not violate the text of the new law.
Vegas Fun Zone on Blanding Boulevard is also open for business like Pete’s Retreat. The family-owned business is watching what’s happening at Pete’s to see if its competitor is allowed to stay open using the pre-reveal software sweepstakes.
“We are planning on reopening,” said Michelle Rager, of Vegas Fun Zone. “Our attorneys have been working on the new software. We have everything in place. We are trying to get the city to answer our questions. We are trying to get the sheriff to answer our questions. Nobody knows.”
Dozens of cafes across the state have called and said they too plan to reopen soon because they are using the new software in the machines and say it follows state guidelines for sweepstakes rules.
Three and half months ago, the state Legislature passed a law that put the Internet cafes out of business. State Sen. John Thrasher was one of the driving forces.
He said the reopenings are something lawmakers will take up again in the next session.
“If there are still some loopholes out there, we are going to find them and again, I remind you, Jim, we are going to take a very comprehensive look next year at gaming generally in the state of Florida, and this will be a part of that,” Thrasher said.
Right now, the unpopular Thrasher said there are agencies who should be looking into what’s happening with the cafes that are reopening but as of end of August no agency seems to care too much as to what is going on.
So who regulates the Internet cafes since the new law passed? All of the following agencies said not them: the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Attorney General Office, the state attorney’s office, and the city of Jacksonville.
One defense lawyer sees the recent withdrawal of the state’s single gambling professional as a cause for optimism.