Sports Book Scene May 31st 2000

Freedom of press threatened in Florida

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Back in 1998, when the Florida Attorney General’s office was sending out threatening letters to publishers whose pages included advertising for off shore sports wagering, our nose was slightly out of joint because we were ignored.

The annual magazine we publish, Players Guide to Las Vegas Sports Books, contains lots of advertising for off shore books.  In fact, it contains a separate magazine within a magazine, called Off Shore Betting Guide, which provides detailed coverage of the industry.

Last year, due probably to improved distribution, we landed on the Florida AG’s list of pen pals.

We received a letter re “Advice to cease and desist” from advertising and promoting what are alleged to be “violations of Florida law through advertising of off shore sports wagering operations.”

The letter is signed by Gary L. Betz, special counsel to the Attorney General.  It cites statutes that make it illegal to wager on sporting events over the phone or Internet from within the state of Florida.

As far as we’re concerned, this is an issue for the national distributors that handle our publications, as well as many others who feature advertising for off shore gaming.

But the letter isn’t content to simply state that advertising for off shore books violates state statutes.  It suggests that such ads violate Florida RICO statutes, which criminalize “the actions of any person or entity that aids and abets the commission of a criminal act in Florida.”

This is pouring it on a little thick.  Especially when the letter concludes by noting a copy is also being forwarded to the U.S. Attorney General “for investigation of possible criminal and civil violations by your publication.”

Are we supposed to be impressed … scared?  How about nauseated and P.O.’ed?

The last report we had, Florida was not exactly a crime-free paradise.  Serious crimes are committed there at an alarming rate.  How come?  Maybe because its so-called law enforcement officials are spending more time engaged in bureaucratic paper shuffling than in serious crime stoppage.

To suggest that publications which take advertising from organizations whose activities are legal in their jurisdictions are breaking the law is ludicrous.

It must be comforting to the citizens of Florida to know that murder, drug-dealing, rape and other serious crime is so under control that the pencil pushers in the AG’s office can divert their resources to taking action against real bad guys:  publishers who run ads for sports books.

We’d like to hear from readers in the Sunshine State.  Have newsstands been so sanitized by the AG that no publications are being sold that advertise off shore sports books?

Apparently the legal beagles in the Florida AG’s office spend so much time pouring over local statutes, they don’t have time to read something a little more relevant, called the Constitution.

In their overzealous pursuit of keeping Florida residents in little antiseptic bubbles so they can’t make a sports wager, these law and enforcement buffoons might try understanding one of the basic concepts on which this country was founded:  freedom of the press.

It’s a precious right, and one that apparently is being abused in Florida. | May 31st, 2000

– – – – – – – – – – – –About the writer
A long time sports betting columnist, Buzz Daly

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