Reaction within the gambling community has been generally supportive of the news earlier this week that former Internet bookie Haden Ware, who turned himself in after 18 years on the run, received only probation and no prison time for violating Federal laws against online gambling in 1998.
Ware and 20 others--the so-called "Internet 21"--were charged in '98 by the U.S. Justice Dept. with violating the Federal Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits using telephone lines for gambling.
Most of the 21 turned themselves in at the time, but Ware, who helped run Antigua-based Internet sportsbook World Sports Exchange (WSEX), remained a fugitive until surrendering to U.S. authorities in New York last January.
"I wasn't suprised at all that Haden Ware didn't get any jail time," said gambing law expert and Buffalo State University law professor Joseph M. Kelly, who has advised the governments of numerous countries around the world in making laws regarding gambling, and who predicted in an earlier interview with Gambling 911 that Ware wouldn't get time.
"It's just what I said would happen," Kelly said. "That he would just get a slap on the wrist. That's what I would have done if I were the judge. None of the others (in the 'Internet 21') who turned themselves in got jail time. The only one who went to jail was the only one who chose to fight the charges in court, Ware's boss, Jay Cohen, who lost his case."
Steve Budin, who used to work at an offshore sportsbook called SDB Global in Costa Rica, was also a member of the "Internet 21."
He returned to the U.S. immediately after being charged, hired a high-priced super-lawyer and was able to get his charge dismissed on a technicality.
Gambling 911 asked him his reaction to Ware getting off with no jail time after being a fugitive for 18 years.
"I think the leniency just shows an overall lack of interest by the Department of Justice in non-Mob-related gambling," said Budin.
"It (busting the 'Internet 21') was a knee-jerk political reaction that was devoid of the necessary long-term foresight that they would be hurting the U.S. economy by forcing the sports gambling business overseas and into the laps of foreign-owned, non-tax-paying entities."
Budin was also asked what he thinks the lasting legacy of WSEX will be.
"They will always be the guys who created the rigged sports stock exchange game that fleeced all of its users out of a legitimate game of chance," Budin said.
"It was digital three-card monte. I'm not a big fan of their hustle. However, that being said, it was revolutionary and ultimately proved that there was indeed a market for off-center sports gambling-themed games other than the traditional sportsbook style that we all were used to. This wisdom led to in-game sports betting, entertainment betting and daily fantasy sports."
Another person familiar with the Feds' jihad against offshore sports betting is Dale Stickel, a sports handicapper who uses the moniker "Philly's Prince of Picks" and runs the website Atlantic City Odds (www.acodds.us).
Stickel used to work as an oddsmaker for Jamaica-based offshore sportsbook English Sports Betting (ESB), whose owner, Dennis Atiyeh, was also busted by the Feds for offshore sports betting, although not as part of the "Internet 21" case.
"I feel that it is just and legitimate that Ware didn't receive any jail time," said Stickel, whose boss, Atiyeh, won his court case against the Feds. "Ware's company, WSEX, was licensed and bonded in Antigua, and it employed hundreds of local people, which helped the Antiguan economy. The long hand of the U.S. has no business intervening in a foreign country's legal activities.
"Ware was only a low-level cog in the WSEX operation," Stickel added. "Jay Cohen was the real crook behind that crooked operation, he was the one who started it and was responsible for robbing everyone's money when WSEX went under a few years ago."
Jeff Brown co-founded and still runs Bettors World (www.bettorsworld.com), the first-ever website dedicated to news and information about sports betting and offshore sportsbooks, which was an early advertising venue for WSEX.
Brown knows Ware personally, having visited him at WSEX headquarters in Antigua on multiple occasions.
"I imagine that the probation is the result of the fact that he was only an employee (of WSEX and not the owner) and would also guess that some deal was made (regarding getting no time in exchange for surrendering)," Brown said.
"I'm not surprised," he continued. "If you recall, there were a handful of others involved in the 1998 complaints, and none served jail time, most cutting some sort of deal. Jay Cohen likely could have done the same, but chose to fight the case in court and lost. I do admire Jay Cohen for the stance he took fighting his case. That took guts. Imagine if the verdict went the other way?"
Another person who knows Ware and visited him at WSEX is Alfred "Buzz" Daly, a Las Vegas-based gambling writer who used to publish a magazine about sports betting that carried ads for WSEX and other offshore sportsbooks.
"I think plea deals are pretty common because many prosecutors are too chicken to take a case to trial," Daly told Gambling 911. "I assume a deal was made when Ware turned himself in. Our court system frequently is more concerned with costs than justice."
Daly continued: "WSEX was the original poster child for offshore betting. It was popular and credible. But after Jay Cohen fought the government and lost, that might have been the turning point when things started to go sour. But that's not an excuse for how badly the book slipped.
"The period when WSEX turned and became a scam operation is a sad chapter in the brief but volatile history of offshore sports books. I believe Cohen was railroaded by the goverment. He was utterly misguided and never had a chance of getting a not guilty result.
"When the WSEX saga started, Ware was pretty young. Something must have happened to cause him to participate in the miserable developments that hurt the books' customers and tarnished its name. I think that if a shop that started out as well as WSEX could descend into what it became at the end, that should be a cautionary tale for bettors."
Finally, another person who knows Ware personally is Gambling 911 owner, founder and publisher Chris "Sting" Costigan, who has covered the "Internet 21" case since the beginning.
“I’m not surprised at all by this,” said Costigan, of Ware receiving only probation. “A few years back, I was made aware that one of the 'Internet 21' defendants tied to Galaxy Sports and living as a fugitive offshore returned home to finally face charges. He was allowed to return to the U.S., got a slap on the wrist and had virtually zero travel restrictions placed upon him. This individual is reportedly back in Panama.
“By this measure, Ware’s six-month probation could be considered somewhat stiff," Costigan added. "As for the long lasting legacy of World Sports Exchange, few of today’s sports bettors are aware of their past existence. They were the recipients of early free advertising with an extensive write-up in Sports Illustrated that some say probably led to the 1998 charges. They were prominently featured on ’60 Minutes’. They were once the gold standard in online sports betting but their luster dissolved over the past 10 years. But t’s a happy ending for Ware."
By Tom Somach
Gambling 911 Staff Writer