Editorial: Big Coconuts at BetOnSports

22 October 2002

Americans have a saying for people like David Carruthers, the CEO of BetOnSports.com.

In the interest of decency, we'll replace one of the words in the saying with the word "coconuts."

"The guy has some big coconuts," is the prevailing sentiment from Yanks toward the boss of one of the world's largest offshore sports books.

The same could be said of Mark Blandford, the boss of Sportingbet.com. His site takes bets from U.S. residents while actively lobbying the U.S government to regulate his industry .

Neither man has shied away from the spotlight in what remains the last frontier for the interactive gaming industry.

Earlier this year, while the U.S. Congress toyed around with various bills aimed at prohibiting Internet gambling in the God-fearing U.S. of A., Blandford showed how big his coconuts are by taking out full-page advertisements in the Washington Post and other leading Capital Hill publications. The ads asked the federal government to tax him.

Titled "Please Sir, May I Pay a Tax," the ads pointed to the hundreds of millions of dollars the United States loses in tax revenue by not regulating the industry.

By having his servers in Costa Rica, though, versus the United Kingdom for Sportingbet, Carruthers doesn't need to worry a great deal about what officials in the United States think of him or his site.

Instead, he can continue to take wagers from U.S. players, as long as their credit card goes through of course, and market the daylights out of his service.

To that end, Carruthers showed the industry how big his coconuts are this fall by embarking on what is easily the most aggressive sports betting campaign to ever hit U.S. shores.

It isn't just that BoS has a luxury bus, complete with Internet hook-up and satellite TV, and a snazzy PT Cruiser to promote its brand.

It's more the way the operation comes to a town and acts like it belongs right alongside other household brands. Carruthers says the industry is legitimate so, he feels, why not act like everyone else?

Hard to argue with that sentiment, especially once you experience it for yourself.

I had the pleasure of visiting the BoS team when they came to St. Louis last weekend to spread the word in conjunction with a Rams game.

The PT Cruiser was parked in front of the stadium where the Rams play, right in front of entrances gates where probably half of the 60,000-plus who attended the game walked by.

The bus, meanwhile, with all of its giveaways, was anchored in a popular tailgating lot along with other promotional tents and stages for such known brands as Jack Daniel's, Miller Lite and a host of radio stations.

For an industry that struggles so much with just getting its concept out, it was refreshing to see BoS marketing itself at such a popular venue.

Of course not all stops on the fall tour have gone off without a hitch. A team of young people staffing the bus were recently charged with gambling offenses when they parked the bus outside a football game in Tampa Bay.

Carruthers is confident the charges won't stick. He hasn't let the hiccup stop the buses from rolling across the country.

For the man with the big coconuts, though, it is just the price of running a business and trying to be the biggest and best.

In August BoS pulled out all the stops and had a no-holds-barred party to open the site's VIP Club in Costa Rica. The party had tabloid TV crews, Hollywood celebrities and of course the highest of the high rollers.

Carruthers and his team wanted to open the facility with a celebration that people would be talking about for a long time. It only made sense that he went as deep into mainstream society as he could to pull it off.

Many in the interactive gaming industry want to be treated fairly and like other industries in the e-commerce sector. They don't want to be singled out with credit card rules and other checks.

Problem is, the industry tends to attract some of ill repute. Granted, those types are few and far between and don't dominate the sector, but they are a part of it nonetheless.

Say what you will about operators like Blandford and Carruthers. Some think they do more harm than good by being so public with their actions.

If this industry expects to be regulated in the United States, though, operators need to stand up and be counted, to let politicians know they have nothing to fear. Not everyone has to be as brash and bold as the two British operators with the big coconuts.

Carruthers is adamant that he is above any prosecution in the states. He insists that he is a U.K. citizen and is following the laws where his business is located (Costa Rica).

He knows his reputation is for taking bold steps and actions, but he also doesn't want people to think he is making bad decisions for his business.

"We are big and bold, but we are sophisticated," he said.

Maybe this British invasion of sorts is just what the industry needs to change minds on Capital Hill. But it could add fuel to a smoldering fire that could eventually hamper operators looking to get into the U.S. market.

In the long term, I'll put my money on the men with the big coconuts.

Nobody knows where Kevin Smith came from. He simply showed up one day and started writing articles for IGN. We liked him, so we decided to keep him. We think you'll like him too. Kevin can be reached at kevin@igamingnews.com.