Cohen Awaits Appellate Decision

30 May 2001
World Sports Exchange President Jay Cohen was back in court last week trying to get his conviction overturned. His appeal was heard by a three-judge panel in New York City.

Cohen was convicted for violating the Wire Act of 1961 through his involvement with World Sports Exchange, an Antigua-based online sportsbook. He and 20 other telephone/Internet sportsbook operators were targets of legal action taken by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in March 1998. He was the only person from the group to return from offshore to face a trial.

In February 2000, a federal circuit court jury found Cohen guilty of conspiracy as well as several counts of violating the Wire Act. In August he was sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined $5,000. He has been out on bail since then.

During the appeal, Cohen's attorney, Mark Baker, argued that his client's service is no different from an off-track betting facility. "In effect, it could criminalize every enterprise with access to Internet bets," Baker said.

Joseph DeMarco, the U.S. Attorney charged with prosecuting Cohen, disagrees with Baker's rationale. "The defendant's argument that he modeled his business after off-track betting is an ignorance-of-the-law defense," DeMarco said. "It's irrelevant."

DeMarco also argued that OTBs are regulated by the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, not the Wire Act.

Cohen said after last week's hearing that he's willing to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court if his appeal is not won.

Cohen, 33, is a cofounder of World Sports Exchange. The site continues to be one of the most popular sports wagering services on the Net. Since his conviction, Cohen has been working in San Francisco as a stock trader.

No timetable has been given for when the appellate court will render a decision.