State needs to probe gambling parlors
Hernando TodayThe issue: Sweepstakes gambling parlors. Our opinion: The Legislature needs to close loophole, and the cops need to shut these places down.
Published: April 2, 2010
Published: April 2, 2010
The Legislature needs to act quickly to close a loophole in state law that, for some bizarre reason, allows sweepstakes gambling parlors to operate in Hernando County and other parts of the state.
The sweepstakes parlors are nothing more than illegal gambling halls, where customers purchase phone or Internet cards to play video gambling devices. If they lose, all the money on the cards evaporates, just like placing a bet and losing. If the gambler wins, he or she turns the card in for a cash payout. Apparently, because the phone and Internet access cards can be used to make calls or go online, it's not necessarily a cash-for-play transaction.
But we all know better.
Hernando Today reporter Tony Holt took $5 into one of the six gambling halls he's identified in the county and walked out with $17. He went into another one and walked out with total winnings of $112.
It's no different than buying chips at a casino. The gambling games are virtually the same.
With one exception.
They aren't regulated by the state.
What's that tell us? The games likely are fixed, and unsuspecting patrons are being taken to the proverbial cleaners. The software program used to run these games of chance likely is programmed to allow first-time and novice gamblers better odds of winning so they will return.
We bet that once someone becomes a "regular" customer, the odds of winning drop dramatically. By then, they are hooked.
Of course, we have no proof. Like we said, these places and games of chance are not regulated by any government entity or gaming authority. Who knows what abuses are taking place.
Somebody is getting rich, and it's not the customers.
One such enterprise, Allied Veterans of the World, disguises itself as a nonprofit charity that raises funds through 32 gambling parlors across Florida, including two in Hernando County.
In 2008, Allied Veterans of the World claims it took in more than $1.571 million from its gambling parlors, donating 80 percent of that to veteran charities. A spokesman for the group claims the organization has donated more than $5 million to charities and ROTC scholarships during the past few years.
Of course, the "national commander" also took an annual salary of $345,000 and the organization owned high-end vehicles, including a Lexus, Mercedes and Cadillac Escalades.
A records request for proof that the money actually went to charities has yet to be turned over to Hernando Today. Mary Kay Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman with the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, confirmed Allied Veterans of the World donated $125,000 to the VA hospital in Gainesville.
While it's likely much of gambling parlor money turned over to the Allied Veterans of the World parent organization is going to charities, it's simply a promotional cover to curry favor with patrons and skirt state gambling laws. They're trying to make something corrupt look respectable by dressing it up as a charity for veterans.
Very clever. Kind of like putting mascara on a Cyclops and saying "my, what a beautiful eye you have!"
What we'd like to know is exactly how much money the 32 gambling parlors are taking in. That's certainly something the state needs to know and, more importantly, something the Florida Department of Law Enforcement should be investigating.
The profits likely are in the tens of millions, and none of it is going to the state. A better question might be: How much are the gambling parlor owners reporting to the IRS?
The man who owns both the Allied Veterans of the World gambling parlors in Hernando County, Anthony Alascia, won't return our calls.
A background check revealed several judgments against him, and he was convicted in September 1992 in Atlantic County, N.J., on a charge of theft by deception, according to records.
Lawmakers in Tallahassee need to wake up to what's going on in communities across our state. They need to protect residents and visitors from this plague. Allied Veterans of the World is a small part of something much larger that's hidden from public scrutiny and government oversight.
And, as is evident in Hernando County, these places are spreading like love bugs in May.
Unfortunately, they're just as hard to get rid of and they keep coming back.