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.”