A U.S. company that promotes online sports books is in a legal battle with Florida authorities, who arrested four of the firm’s employees on gambling charges and impounded vehicles worth more than $130,000. In other parts of the country, however, the promotion seems to literally roll along without police hassles.

 

BetOnSports Motor HomeMobile Promotions, of Miami, “wraps” motor homes and PT Cruisers and sets them up outside the stadiums where professional sports events are held. Wrapping a vehicle involves a paint job that covers everything, even the windows. It’s often done on city buses, in a loud, in-your-face style that’s much more attention-getting than the traditional advertising posters that are placed on the sides and rear of a vehicle.

 

The idea is to get the client’s name in front of fans as they head to and from a game, pass out literature and give-aways like mouse pads and footballs, and maybe register a few future bettors.

 

Monica Lenis, whose family owns Mobile Promotions, said the company began doing these promotions about three years ago. She won’t identify previous clients, but one of the major accounts this year is a Costa Rican sports book, BetonSports.com.

 

Mobile Promotions had not encountered legal problems, Lenis said, until it went to Tampa, Florida. On Oct. 13, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played inside Raymond James Stadium, the motor home and the PT Cruiser and their crews were outside promoting BetonSports. The fully outfitted motor home carries three laptops. With a satellite dish on the roof, the laptops are able to connect to the Internet.

 

One man went inside the mobile home, where Chad Williams registered him as a IDN Slot BetonSports customer. The man wanted to make a deposit into his new account. Williams took the man’s credit card information and made the deposit for him. Then the man said he wanted to place a bet, and Williams dialed the BetonSports call center in San Jose, Costa Rica.

 

He handed the man the telephone, and was placed under arrest. The man turned out to be an undercover Tampa detective named Bill Todd. Three other employees of Mobile Promotions were arrested with Williams, including Manny Lenis, cousin of Monica Lenis.

 

Charges against the four include keeping a gambling house and being an agent for a gambling house. Both charges are third-degree felonies under Florida law. The men were released on bail after about 17 hours in the Hillsborough County jail.

 

Also, the motor home, PT Cruiser and a trailer were impounded. If the state can prove the vehicles were used in the commission of a crime, it can seize them, sell them and pocket the proceeds.

 

The following Sunday, Oct. 20, Mobile Promotions took another motor home and PT Cruiser – both painted with the BetonSports name and tag lines — to St. Louis for a Rams game. Of those arrested in Tampa, only Chad Williams made the trip to St. Louis. He and other workers parked the motor home, complete with an inflatable football player on top, in a lot that was full of vans and buses and fans enjoying tailgate parties, and distributed literature and give-aways for the sports book.

 

This time, the crew was more cautious with the 12 or 15 people who came into the van. Williams said he and his colleagues registered people for the BetonSports site, but did not make credit card deposits for them. If customers said they wanted to place a bet, they were encouraged to do so from their own cell phones, and not while they were in the motor home.

 

Monica Lenis said there were no problems with police in St. Louis. The motor home then headed to Detroit, where the company planned to do its promotion outside the arena where an NHL game was played Wednesday.

 

“This is the first time we’ve done the motor home activity,” David Caruthers, chief executive of BetonSports, told WINNERonline. “It’s become an integral part of our marketing mix. The bus really does stand out; it’s very strong branding.”

 

Caruthers said his site spends more than $10 million a year in advertising, and, until the Tampa arrests, has never had problems with its U.S. advertising. “I advertise in the Continental Airlines magazine, in Maxim magazine, on the Howard Stern show, and other places,” he said. “To my knowledge, none of the staff of any of these enterprises have been arrested for carrying my ads.”

 

BetonSports targets the recreational gambler, he said, who is already a sports fan to begin with. He said the company tries to make sure that minors can’t access its site, and follows the “know your customer” guidelines to minimize the risk of being used for money laundering.

 

Caruthers spent 24 years working for Ladbrokes, the big UK betting firm, before joining BetonSports in June 2000. The site, which uses software from IQ-Ludorum, was originally a phone betting service. It moved from Aruba to Antigua in 1997, when it began accepting bets online. In 1998, it moved to Costa Rica.

 

Mobile Promotions could get its vehicles back as early as next week. Its lawyer, Alan Ross of Miami, said there will be a “show cause” hearing Tuesday on the state’s effort to seize the property.

 

Within 30 days from the date of the arrest of the four employees, Ross said, the state will decide what, if any, formal charges to file against them. He’s optimistic, he said, because Florida law does not specifically provide for Internet gambling offenses.

 

“There are some obvious problems in the normal bookmaking kind of charge,” he said. “For a bookmaking charge, you need to have someone, for money, accept a wager. There’s no doubt that these people who are in the marketing business are not the people who accepted a wager, if anyone did at all. The person receiving the bet has to receive the money.”

 

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