Sports Book Scene Rants

Government Goes on a Witch Hunt; Alas, Its Target, Jay Cohen, Isn’t a Witch

Legal sports wagering ruffles feathers, whether it is moral zealots, religious fanatics, or law enforcement agencies.

One of the individuals who is going to the wall in fighting for the availability of legal sports wagering to Americans is Jay Cohen, founder of Antigua-based World Sports Exchange (

Is it self-serving in some respects? Sure. But there is more to Jay’s position than dollars and cents. Simply put, Cohen believes he is right, and the government is wrong.

In less than two weeks, Jay will be on trial in New York, charged by the Department of Justice with being an illegal bookmaker. He could have stayed in Antigua, or plea-bargained as did virtually everyone else charged under the same statute.

But Jay believes he did nothing wrong or illegal, and has not backed down from that position over the two years this case has dragged on.

Who is Jay Cohen and what makes his case so interesting? For starters, Cohen is a living legend in the gaming industry. He was the first to understand that Internet gaming holds the same fascination, and the same logic, as trading securities on any stock exchange. (Hence his corporate name.)

Through Cohen’s company, post-up players can place bets on games from the privacy of their personal computers. But what his success is based on, is that he is running an honest, licensed, well-managed business. And it is precisely Jay’s success that has earned him the wrath of the U.S. government.

Under the guise of enforcing an outdated law, the U.S. government has charged Cohen with the illegal use of wire communication to transmit bets in violation of the Wire Communications Act of 1961, a law aimed at eradicating illegal bookmaking by organized crime. But the catch is that Cohen is not an illegal bookmaker and even his critics don’t claim he is connected to the mob.

So confident is Cohen in the legitimacy of his business that he has voluntarily returned to the U.S. to face the charges. The big casinos, professional sports such as the NFL, and the money that backs them, are nervous. They know that if Cohen wins it will be a legal milestone for the Internet that will shake traditional gambling interests to the foundation and his defense is based, in part, on the fact that it is legal to place bets in New York, and legal to receive bets in Antigua.

From day one, Cohen has been totally open and aboveboard about his enterprise, even engaging in debates with state attorney generals and offering testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about regulating on-line gaming.

The prosecution of Jay Cohen seems misguided and pointless. The U.S. government is picking on the wrong recreational activity in the wrong era and on the wrong man.

Unless the government is prepared to monitor every American’s home computer, enforcing a ban is impossible. The result would be as disastrous as the ban on alcohol during the Prohibition in the 1920s. And like Prohibition, banning Internet gaming would serve no social or moral mandate, except open the doors to organized crime. In sum, the cure would be far worse than the ailment.

The reality is that Internet gaming is here to stay. While regulating the activity may be in order, an outright ban is doomed to fail. Regulators would have better luck shutting down the Internet.

As for Cohen, his only crime may be that he is paying better odds and providing e-commerce convenience – clearly threats to an establishment that has long viewed with a jaundiced eye society’s historic fascination with gambling.

While prior eras have had their martyrs to new technology, in the emerging Information Age of the 21st Century, are we really prepared to condemn yet another innocent man whose crime is innovation? | February 4th, 2000

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

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