The Sting Is Back on in Michigan

26 January 2001
Continuing where it left of last March during the NCAA basketball Final Four, the Wayne County, Mich., Sheriff’s department has set up a bogus online sportsbook for the Super Bowl. The URL of the site is not being released to the public, but Sheriff Robert Ficano says that pressing charges against punters is not the main goal of the site.

"At this point in time we are looking at it as more of an educational tool," he said. "Maybe down the road we will look into using it as a tool for criminal prosecution."

Ficano explained that the site is set up to lure gamblers to place online wagers on the Super Bowl. Once the credit card information is processed through the site, the bettor then receives an e-mail telling him the bet is no good.

"We send them a message to let them know that the site was a law enforcement site," Ficano said. "We let them know that making bets online is illegal in Michigan and everywhere else in the United States and that they should be more careful in who they give their credit card information out to."

Ficano did admit that anyone who is really determined to place a wager on the game through an online bookie would probably be able to find one elsewhere.

The site has generated quite a bit of traffic this week, according to Ficano, but he predicted this weekend would be when the majority of bets will be placed.

In addition to trying to educate the public on betting laws, Ficano said his staff is trying to spread the word about credit card fraud.

"There are so many bogus sites out there that people just hand their credit card over to," he said. The credit card companies want it to stop and sometimes the card holders themselves seek action once they see their card getting charged for things they didn’t authorize."

The Sheriff's department set up a similar site last year for the NCAA Championship tournament. (See "The Sting Is On in Michigan.")

Michigan Readers Speak Their Minds

Sparked by the news that Wayne County Sheriff Robert Ficano and his Detroit-area deputies had set up a bogus online sportsbook to "educate" the public on the laws of online gambling, the Detroit Free Press thought it was a good time to ask its readers some questions.

Since Tuesday, the paper has had an online survey asking its readers "What’s your attitude about Internet sites where you can place a bet on sporting events?"

While the site didn’t disclose how many visitors weighed in with a vote, those who did were not in favor of Internet gambling.

Only 20 percent of the visitors feel that online gambling is "harmless fun," while 32 percent feel it is "as bad as other forms of gambling and the remaining 47 percent look at online gambling as a "good way to get your credit card stolen."

The site also allowed users to post comments on the issue. The comments of eight respondents were posted. Of the eight respondents, two were outright against online gambling, one was neutral and the other five were supportive of online gambling or felt that law enforcement officials should be channeling their efforts elsewhere.

One of those against online gambling was indeed himself a regular visitor to racetracks where he can bet on horses. He said he is against online wagering due to security issues.

"I have been known to attend the horse races and place a bet or two," he said in his post on the paper’s site. "But I would never bet online. I am not convinced that the security of our credit cards is being protected. Hackers find new ways to breach security everyday so I will bet in person or not at all."

Another reader said he had a negative attitude "on all fronts" towards online gaming, but his comments showed some signs of being open to the idea:

"I would judge it to be in how much you may be able to afford to lose, as well as your own perception of the possibility of your credit card number being stolen," he said. "I would prefer to watch and enjoy the event, with the option to make a small wager with a friend."

A man who called himself John Doe held back no punches when talking about security issues with the Internet. "People who get scammed by online gaming sights are the same idiots who fall for any other scam," he said. "Proper research can find you a reputable site operating from another country to place your wagers safely. I have been using such a sight for several years with no problems. I don't see any problem doing so when the state that is condemning this action is selling lottery tickets with worse odds, and reaping in tax money from casinos. A bit of a double standard wouldn't you say?"

One visitor even suggested that regulating the industry would help clean it up of the "bogus" site, which the Sheriff’s department warns of.

"The government should license Internet gambling sites," the post said. "This will eliminate fly-by-night operators and open up a new revenue stream. People are going to gamble anyway, so we might as well legitimize it."

Another reader shared in those thoughts. "Why doesn't the state legalize sports book and at least try to legally regulate the betting, and capture some revenue at the same time. People will obviously bet no matter the legality. And what's the difference between betting on a fight and playing the lottery, blackjack, dice or a slot machine?"

A pair of visitors vented their disdain for the Sheriff’s department as well.

"Law enforcement has more important things to worry about," one post said. "Like traffic traps involving one spotter and three of four chase cars, raiding gentlemen’s clubs keeping hardened menaces to society like people with a turn signal out, dancers and patrons off the streets so they don't bother the gangs and drug houses that so enrich the city. It's not about fighting crime, it's about revenue, legislating morality, and sticking their nose further up people's. . ."

Another post felt the department was wasting its time dealing with the issue.

"I think law enforcement has better things to do than teach bettors a lesson," it said. "Gambling on football, and other forms of gambling for that matter, is never going to go away in this country. How hypocritical for the same government that runs a lottery that preys on lower income citizens, which sanctions billion dollar casinos in our cities, to preach from its pulpit about gambling's dangers. Just another example of why government needs to stay out of people's lives. Betting on sports is good entertainment for millions of mature, disciplined, and law-abiding citizens. Gambling on the internet, contrary to this report, is very safe if one does a little research first. I am tired of the government making 'moral' decisions for what I can and cannot do with my money."

Finally, a reader from Florida, vented by quoting the bible:

"But my God shall supply all of your needs according to His riches in Glory by Christ Jesus," she said in her post, giving chapter and verse, "Phillipians 4:19. This eliminates any need to gamble for money!"

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